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Monday, December 30, 2013

Ecoloigcal Economics Part IV - The Best Solution



In the last post, I highlighted some of the ways that a steady state economy might take place and hinted that I would be discussing the best single option in this post. Some of you may already have an inkling of where I'm headed with this, and for others this is probably going to appear too simple to be real. But the single best answer to many of the existential threats facing humanity has been in front of us for thousands of years: walkable, sustainable communities.

One of the hardest things for Americans in dealing with resource scarcity and climate change is that leading more modest, less wasteful lives seems enormously difficult, requiring changing 1000s of daily habits and taking on onerous checks and balances. It seems this way because trying to lead modest, sustainable lives within a framework of suburban car-accommodation is enormously difficult, almost literally impossible. Suburbia is based on the idea of separation of uses, which means residential is in one place and industry is another—and commercial is in yet another—with roads to connect these disparate zones. Walking from one place to another is practically impossible because of distance alone, but to make matters worse sidewalks are non-existent in most areas, and where they’re present pedestrians must walk across 6 lane roads, and huddle a mere 3 feet away from cars going 50+ mph. Public transit is, of course, not cost effective because everything is so spread out, which means the only logical solution is to drive everywhere, which builds a baseline amount of carbon usage into every suburban household. Combine that with our penchant for large houses that need to be heated and cooled, and all our electronic doodads, and Americans are energy hogs with almost no feasible way to cut back to anything approaching effectiveness.

It's no wonder we're failing at this; failure is literally built into the system.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Thursday Links is a little short on solutions

+This is press release-y business jargon, but it still highlights a nice trend in recycling: e-waste recycling. Since heavy metals are necessary for the majority of our hi-tech gadgets, are in short supply, and only real can be found at great human and environmental cost in politically dubious places around the world, it's a good thing that there are companies out there recycling the giant piles of waste created every year as we throw out our iPhones every two years. For an idea of why this is so necessary, check out this 2010 article from NPR, which follows the afterlife of your favorite electronic device.

+We are already paying a tax for climate change...for climate inaction.

+Shock Doctrine: resource scarcity and climate change will create all sorts of opportunities for investment in housing, infrastructure, and services as millions of refugees move into existing cities and create new ones.

+But I am going to talk about the need for smart planning, whether an area is urban or rural. Smart planning means that someone has to be charged with looking out for the long-term and especially for the long-term good of all. In a free society, we elect and appoint people to these roles. That’s what we call government. Government is not some separate entity; it’s “we the people” entrusting leaders and their delegates to plan for the long-term good of all of us. Excellent piece on the need for government and long-term thinking w/r/t societal issues.

+This has been linked about 700 times, so what's the harm in one more. David Simon on the Two Americas. And for extra credit, here's a piece from Adbusters about what's wrong with America. Between these two articles, just about the entirety of the cultural, economic, and political insanity of America is encompassed.

+“Hello,” it said. “We are looking for highly intelligent individuals. To find them, we have devised a test. There is a message hidden in this image. Find it, and it will lead you on the road to finding us. We look forward to meeting the few that will make it all the way through. Good luck.” The message was signed: "3301”. This has nothing to do with anything really, but I just thought it was one of the most interesting articles I've read in awhile.

+Adam Kotsko has a few reservations about non-violence. I had similar reservations when the cops wantonly beat their way through 50+ Occupy Wall Street encampments across the country and the average citizen and the media looked at the violence and blamed the beaten protesters. Non-violent protest requires political pressure from society in general in order to be truly effective. It only works when society is horrified by the beating of a non-violent protester (ala Civil Rights, 1963); it doesn't work if the average citizen either shrugs at the beatings, or actively roots on the establishment. I think the Iraq war protests in 2003 showed that mass protest is no longer effective, and Occupy Wall Street proved non-violence has lost much of its teeth. The problem is that violent revolution rarely produces a stable, functioning government. As sad as it may appear, the only solution may actually be to radically change the lowest levels of government first and then move up the chain to actual constitutional amendments.

+Even the Harvard Business Review is pointing out the obvious.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Ecological Economics Part IV: Cultural Change



Last time I discussed a few of the options available on the supply side of a steady state economy, and deduced that most every solution requires heavy handed governmental policies that are unlikely to be enacted anytime soon.

One option I forgot to discuss is altering accounting standards to account for the negative side effects of company's products. For instance, if the only rational use for gasoline is to be burned for fuel, and the carbon produced by burning this gasoline has a quantifiable negative effect on the environment, then oil and gas companies could be forced to account for these negative effects on their balance sheets and/or income statements. Consumers are already taxed for this, but producers are allowed to essentially offload all responsibility for the negative side effects of the rational use of their products. Allowing this to continue is immoral and unfair, since some of the worst polluters are allowed to externalize an important social and environmental cost, instead of taking responsibility for their part.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Friday Links is a little cranky

+This is a story from India, but it applies here as well. One of the chief ways to restrict vehicle use in pedestrian areas is to simply make people pay for parking. This is simply a matter of looking at things differently. Why is our entire infrastructure geared toward the ease of use of drivers? "There Should Be No Free Parking".

+Notice how this orients the casual student, the non-major who will only encounter economics once in this survey course. They start off with an abstract market that always works, versus having to see the messy parts when it doesn’t. They then proceed to the long-run, and only after everything else do they get to something that might help them understand why unemployment is so high for young college graduates. Only then might they be introduced to the institutions that make markets happen, if those are discussed at all. Colleges are teaching economics backwards...or wrong entirely.

+I try to stay away from this sort of thing, but here's a good piece in the Guardian about the next steps for Detroit. There's so many people doing so many interesting, revolutionary things in Detroit that I am fully confident the city will be fine in the long term, but since this country never looks at the long term most people are focused on the bankruptcy and heartache.

+Michael Garrity, the co-founder and chief executive officer of FinanceIt, tells me that one reason that small and medium-size businesses struggle to compete with big-box stores, especially around holiday time, is that they need to get paid up front and sometimes consumers would prefer to spread out big payments over time. FinanceIt lets merchants approve customers for financing at point-of-sale with a simple scan of their driver’s license, giving them the in-house financing chops that big retailers already enjoy. Another reason is that our entire infrastructure is designed to support and benefit big box retailers and steer most consumers away from pedestrian-friendly downtown shopping districts. But, hey, let's get everyone more in debt. That'll solve it.

+The glory days of the United States and Soviet race to space are long over, but another rivalry between two titans of entrepreneurship has taken its place. Yesterday, Elon Musk’s SpaceX successfully completed its first transfer of a satellite into orbit. On the same day Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, the Amazon founder’s secretive space project, debuted a new liquid hydrogen rocket engine particularly suited for human space travel. Why the hell are these two clowns spending so much money trying to get to space, when they could be spending that money fixing the planet we have? I know, because they're ultra-rich individualist technologists who are looking for a way to get themselves and their rich buddies off the planet when they destroy this one.

+An alliance of corporations and conservative activists is mobilising to penalise homeowners who install their own solar panels – casting them as "freeriders" – in a sweeping new offensive against renewable energy, the Guardian has learned. Over the coming year, the American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec) will promote legislation with goals ranging from penalising individual homeowners and weakening state clean energy regulations, to blocking the Environmental Protection Agency, which is Barack Obama's main channel for climate action. From the lobbyists who brought such American classics as "Stand Your Ground" and new voter ID laws, comes a new set of laws designed to ensure the planet becomes a steaming pile of garbage.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Idea of the Week: Paging all Great Lakes Entrepreneurs!

One of the things I want to do with this blog (which I've heretofore done a terrible job of) is highlight cool sustainability ideas that are going on around the world, so that any budding entrepreneurs might be able to take those ideas and implement them in their own hometowns. There are a lot of cool things going on around the world, and if something is working in one place it might work where you live.

So, let's get to it.

The Vermont Sail Freight Project
The Vermont Sail Freight Project is an interesting idea in the Northeast, whereby a few sailors build a sailboat for less than $20k, fill it with fresh produce from Vermont, and then sail it down the Hudson River to Brooklyn, selling and restocking at different ports along the way. There are few costs for an owner-operator once the cost of the boat is covered, since wind is, you know, free.

The positives of this are multi-leveled. First it transports fresh produce from an agriculturally rich area of the country to one that is largely urban. Second, it puts zero molecules of carbon into the air. Third, it supports small farmers throughout the Hudson River Valley and connects the whole region through food, sustaining and creating jobs that are sustainable, important, and fulfilling.

The best thing about this, though, is that it can be implemented anywhere where a large body of water connects regions. Being from Michigan the Great Lakes come readily to mind, but large river systems could work as well. One obvious river is the Ohio, which connects one of the most fertile agricultural areas in the country to several cities like Louisville and Cincinnati. This idea is scalable, but it can also be implemented on the owner-operator level, which makes it economically dynamic as well.

For more information on the Vermont Sail Freight Project, check out their website here.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Best Young Writers 2013

Some of you may not be aware that I started a publishing company in 2013 called Shire Reckoning Publishing House. If you aren't aware of this, don't feel bad; it's entirely because I've done a horrible job of promoting the house on this blog. That changes now.

The first project I focused on with SRPH was the Best Young Writers contest, a literature contest for writers between 14 and 20 years old with a grand prize of $500. The 2013 winner was an amazing writer from St. Louis named Myra Stull who wrote a great short story about young love and the endurance of faith. But I received so many other great submissions I decided to compile the 21 best into an anthology titled, cleverly, Best Young Writers 2013.

I say all this because I finally got the finished books in my hot little hands last week and they are available for y'all to purchase. They're only $10 and for that you get 21 of the best short stories and poems young American writers could conjure, and you help me break even on this so that I can do it next year and the year after that and the year after that...

I only ordered 175 copies, so this is a very limited edition printing. They're selling like hot cakes, so now is definitely the time to get your hands on one...or two.

Thanks in advance for your support. It means a lot to me to give back to the younger generations of writers and your help makes that possible.

You can order the book here.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Monday Links is your utility's worst nightmare

+Optimizing resources makes sense from just about every angle. Technology Review agrees.

+While the subject of this article is actually the apex of neoliberal shock doctrine politics (i.e. manufacturing a crisis in order to make money off the solution...in this case the West producing the lion's share of carbon that causes Climate Change, and then making money off the mitigation in poor countries), I think at its heart there is truth here. Some of the purest entrepreneurial opportunities available right now are finding innovative ways to distribute resources more efficiently and help people deal with the consequences of centuries of environmental neglect. I gravitate toward housing concerns, personally, but water, food, and safety are three important areas of opportunity.

+Speaking of neoliberalism: As Harvey writes, neoliberalism is “a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets, and free trade.” What makes this “liberation” class war? Because the state that produces it enshrines a view of freedom that prioritizes “the interests of private property owners, businesses, multinational corporations, and financial capital.” Mike Konczal chats about the history of neoliberalism and how it's at the root of our current crises.

+It would appear the new pope has actually read the New Testament.

+14 (well, really 13) good ideas from the Huffington Post.

+One of my good friends and I got in a Twitter battle about the relative merits of the Music City Convention Center in downtown Nashville, and while we didn't come to any real consensus, he did call my attention to the AMP, a rapid bus line connecting Nashville's busiest population centers. Brilliant!

+Greenfield has paid nothing for power from his local utility since the system was installed by SolarCity a year ago. At parties and family gatherings he proudly shares his savings data with anyone who's interested. He's your utility's worst nightmare, and there are now hundreds of thousands of homeowners and small businesses like him as Silicon Valley entrepreneurs transform monthly ratepayers into smart consumers.

+Our current predicament in two paragraphs: When Abbot John de Sais laid the first stone of a church in a tiny central England town in 1118, he set in motion a construction project that would culminate in 1237 with the completion of Peterborough Cathedral -- the grandest structure in England at the time and a harbinger of the Gothic style that came to define British architecture for the next 500 years. De Sais was long dead before the project was complete, but that didn't stop him. Fast-forward to the US housing bubble of 2008. Developers built McMansions for speculation. Brokers bundled house values into mortgage-backed securities that they could trade in a nanosecond. Sprawl ensued and build quality was poor. Eventually the bubble burst, prices declined, and now we are left with foreclosed homes that nobody wants. So what changed in western culture between 1118 and 2008? How did we go from building grand cathedrals to McMansions? Forget short-termism: it's time to think longpath.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Wednesday Links is a bit gloomy

+Follow-up to an earlier link: It's official! Wappinger Falls is going green!

+Could Social Impact Bonds (SIBs) help blighted areas?

+A "kludge" is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as "an ill-assorted collection of parts assembled to fulfill a particular purpose...a clumsy but temporarily effective solution to a particular fault or problem." The term comes out of the world of computer programming, where a kludge is an inelegant patch put in place to solve an unexpected problem and designed to be backward-compatible with the rest of an existing system. When you add up enough kludges, you get a very complicated program that has no clear organizing principle, is exceedingly difficult to understand, and is subject to crashes. Any user of Microsoft Windows will immediately grasp the concept. Kludgeocracy in America.

+In the light of such an absolute and irretrievable failure, I think we need to revise the slogan about it being easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. It’s as though we collectively were given a choice of which we would choose, and we chose to end the world. The decisive victory of liberal-democratic capitalism really was the end of history, just not in the sense intended. Adam Kotsko discusses how it became easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.

+“When we contemplate ruins,” Christopher Woodward has said, “we contemplate our own future.” The apocalypse is thereby transformed into a memory, an event which is yet to come but which has also somehow, paradoxically, already happened. Behind the endless, neurotic rehearsal of the debate over whether or not climate change is “real” lurks the much more depressed sense that it doesn’t even matter either way—even in the increasingly unlikely event there’s time, we still won’t act to save ourselves. Three months after Hurricane Sandy, eight years after Hurricane Katrina, 25 years after James Hansen testified before Congress, 40 years after the development of a scientific consensus around global warming in the 1970s, 70 years after climate models in the 1950s first began to point to the problem, 107 years after Svante Arrhenius first modeled the greenhouse effect in 1896, we still sit and wait to see what happens. It’s as if we’ve been practicing the end of everything for so long we’re relieved, or even exhilarated, to see it finally become real. The market has spoken, and the media, and the voters: we’ll continue to do nothing, eagerly surrender to our collective death drive, freely author our own collapse. Perhaps Lear would have thought it all a bit too on-the-nose—but now our suicidal urges and our selfishness and our sickening disregard for the future come back to us as hurricanes and heat-waves. Let a thousand science fictional panoramas bloom: the Statue of Liberty frozen over, toppled in the sand, neck-deep in water. Hollywood on fire. Texas cracked with drought. Hundred-year storms every other year. Après nous, la glace, le feu, le désert, le déluge.

+“We’ve got to make a decision — either we’re going to be a region or we’re not,” he said at a packed news briefing the day after the Braves’ announcement. “It bothers me that we have not come far enough as a community that people feel that a team moving 12 miles is a loss to the city of Atlanta.” Mayor Reed is right in that Atlanta is a highly mobile city with very blurred geographic lines, but as last year's TSPLOST vote proved (and to a certain extent the Braves' move proves), this region is as divided as ever, and it will not work to save itself.

+In an effort to compensate for the failure of central governments to address the dangers of climate change with comprehensive national policies, cities, states and regions have developed their own strategies to rein in emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases. This is the heart of the matter: the highest levels of national and international governance are incapable of dealing with these problems, and so it falls on regions and cities to do their part to solve climate change.

+But there is a bright side to Climate Change.

+Huntsville, AL will develop a comprehensive Master Plan for the city.


+I've long held that one of the most obvious proofs of a desire for classical urbanism is that the richest American homes look like classical buildings. Unfortunately we set these homes in acres of lawn fronted by unnecessarily massive roads. Americans know what they want but they don't know how to articulate it. We desire community but we somehow believe we can create it without physical proximity to one another.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Ecological Economics: Supply Side Solutions



If the primary goal of a steady-state economy is to shrink the economy so that it provides only what is needed for the current population, leaving large swaths of natural capital untouched, then one natural outgrowth of this would be full employment. One of the principal ways that companies produce “growth” is through efficiency by reducing the workforce and cutting costs, while simultaneously getting more out of that reduced workforce. This produces the illusion of economic growth, but it also continues the dramatic increase in resource use we’ve seen over the last 4 or 5 decades, and produces a systemic unemployment problem since all companies are using the same tactics to produce growth. Some companies may hire more workers in the future because the company is growing at too fast a clip, but the increase in workers rarely sops up the growing pool of unemployed, since other companies are off-loading workers are fast as the growing companies are picking them up.

One way to slow economic growth would be to simply re-introduce inefficiency back into the system by hiring back workers and making processes more labor intensive. Given that most workers are wasting a full 1/3 of their time at work, a company could hire twice and many workers and have them work 25 or 30 hour weeks. The key is that the company would still need to pay them for a full 40 hour week. This would, of course, increase costs, but since the goal is to decrease profits and slow the speed of resource consumption, this is precisely the goal.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tuesday Links gives Jessica Alba a high five

+Lewis said that instructors at French art schools would push carts around to collect students' works on the due dates. Inevitably, she said, some students would not be finished. So, multiple students would often jump onto the cart with an unfinished piece of art and work collaboratively to finish it before the cart reached its destination. The word's origin loosely describes how the fast-paced, collaborative planning process is meant to work. Saginaw, MI is taking steps to fix the downtown area.

+Who knew Jessica Alba was so cool? Her startup The Honest Company is dedicated to producing non-toxic and sustainable products.

+He was merely observing that mass uprisings of people – along the lines of the abolition movement, the civil rights movement or Occupy Wall Street – represent the likeliest source of “friction” to slow down an economic machine that is careening out of control. Naomi Klein on the revolutionary potential of climate change.

+This is nothing new, but I keep forgetting to mention Prince Charles. Yes, that Prince Charles. He may be an old, stuffy royal dude, but he's also an awesome champion for traditional urbanism. This is a link to some information about his experimental traditional urban city in England, Poundbury.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Thursday Links is mostly interested in urban planning

+Tiny Wappingers Falls, NY is doing what every city should be doing: embracing green solutions.

+Urban and regional planners are set to become on of the next hot jobs.

+As the proud owner of a Georgian house, I'm sad to see architect Gordon Ridgely has passed away.

+The UN develops online tool to help urban planners adapt to climate change.

+The French are just better at this stuff than us: Small French city enlists the help of artists to redesign their city.

+Incredible! MARTA and Brookhaven residents start brainstorming on ways to make their MARTA station mixed use.

+Good Lord, Russell Brand! Between three sets of different people; first generation Muslims, servicemen and the privileged elite that they serve (that would be me) effortless cooperation occurred. Here we were free from the divisive rule that tears us apart. That sends brave men and women to foreign lands to fight their capitalist wars, that intimidates and unsettles people whose faith and culture superficially distinguishes them, that tells the comfortable "hush now" you have your trinkets. It seemed ridiculous that refracted through the power prism that blinds us; the soldiers could be invading the homeland of these women's forefathers in order to augment my luxurious stupour. Here in the gap we were together. Our differences irrelevant. With no one to impose separation we are united. I could practically quote this entire column in The Guardian, but I'll just link to it, instead.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Tuesday Links wants a scorpion lollipop

+A couple of bugged out links: Dutch designer comes up with a plastic made from beetles. And, looking for something to calm your craving for insect candy? Hotlix has you covered!

+Obama does the obvious.

+West coast says, "To hell with the rest of the country!"

+Atlanta is moving into the future. Willingly, it would seem.

+The Canberra Times has a really nice breakdown of how ridiculous our current living arrangements are.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Entrepreneurship in the New Green Economy

One last reminder. If you happen to be in the Atlanta area tonight, I'll be giving a small talk about entrepreneurial opportunities in the new green economy at the Toco Hills Library. Here're the details:

Entrepreneurship in the New Green Economy
Monday, 11/4 @ 7pm
Free

Toco Hills - Avis G. Williams Library
1282 McConnell Drive, Decatur, GA
 

With the news filled with stories of political gridlock, climate change, and resource scarcity, there are plenty of reasons to be worried about the future. But with challenging times also come great opportunities. Atlanta businessman and Founder of Shire Reckoning Publishing House Tres Crow highlights reasons for optimism in this informative and invigorating talk on the importance of entrepreneurship in the new Green Economy, along with examples of entrepreneurs who are embracing change and building new industries. 

It would be truly awesome to see some of you there.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Thursday Links is raisin' some chickens, y'all!

+This is far from a new idea, but I think it's hilarious that this is happening in Oklahoma, as if farming is a novel idea there. OKC about the OK urban chickens.

+Bill McKibben is calling for colleges to divest, but it's interesting that investors are also starting to consider the ramifications of investing in companies that are wholeheartedly selling out humanity's future. From Fortune: Investors Sound the Alarm on Climate Change.

+Plan Would Track, Tax Cars by the Mile. Yes, please!

+If we designed a standard school for 1,300 kids, there would be only one place big enough to put it: right in the middle, on top of the forest of trees. Not only would the community lose its trees but the school would be isolated within the housing, which was in turn isolated from the city around it. We needed to do better, but we didn’t have much time. Excellent story on how you can build consensus and work with government and communities to fix difficult problems

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Entrepreneurship and the New Green Economy

If you happen to be in the Atlanta area this upcoming Monday, I'll be giving a small talk about entrepreneurial opportunities in the new green economy at the Toco Hills Library. Here're the details:

Entrepreneurship in the New Green Economy
Monday, 11/4 @ 7pm
Free

Toco Hills - Avis G. Williams Library
1282 McConnell Drive, Decatur, GA
 

With the news filled with stories of political gridlock, climate change, and resource scarcity, there are plenty of reasons to be worried about the future. But with challenging times also come great opportunities. Atlanta businessman and Founder of Shire Reckoning Publishing House Tres Crow highlights reasons for optimism in this informative and invigorating talk on the importance of entrepreneurship in the new Green Economy, along with examples of entrepreneurs who are embracing change and building new industries. 

It would be truly awesome to see some of you there.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Ecological Economics: Limits to Growth?

A few weeks back I posted a brief economic history of the US in the post-war period in order to set up how the ecological economics movement took root in the mid-1990s. Ecological economics is a critique of classical and neoclassical economics that seeks to create a steady state economy that is focused on full employment and natural sustainability rather than economic growth. The critique is detailed and multi-faceted, but it focuses primarily on two aspects of modern economics: growth and accounting. Today I'm going to take a look at the first of those.

In his book Supply Shock: Economic Growth at the Crossroads and the Steady State Solution, Ecologist Brian Czech provides an excellent history of how growth came to be the dominant goal of all world economies, but the tale is too detailed for me to dive into here. Regardless of the history, the end result is the same: the mainstream view of all economies is that growth should be the primary economic goal. The belief in growth has been so dominant for so long that questioning it is tantamount to heresy.

But that is exactly what ecological economics has in mind.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Thursday Links is considering form-based blogging

+While I would never give up on the idea that we should address the causes of Climate Change, this editorial poses an interesting counterpoint. Should we start worrying about adapting?

+Road diets are central to the plan. A road diet uses a variety of methods to reduce road width, slow traffic speeds, re-establish community linkages and generally improve accommodations for pedestrians and bicycles. Flint, MI goes on a road diet to find a clearer path to a viable future.

+A novel idea: "Consideration of the form-based zoning approach is in response to growing concern among residents that the scale and style of new developments are not fitting into the downtown's historic character," according to a memorandum from City Manager John Bohenko. Form-based zoning differs from current zoning by de-emphasizing use and focusing more on building placement, scale and design. Portsmouth considers a form-based zoning ordinance.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tuesday Links is gonna totally hack the earth

+Maybe hacking the planet is an easier solution than massive cooperation. To Fix Climate Change, Scientists Turn To Hacking The Earth.

+All Gehl’s concepts involve decreasing space given over to cars and increasing space inhabited by pedestrians, thereby encouraging human interaction across class lines and reducing the debilitating effects of high-rise isolation. New documentary, The Human Scale, argues for building cities for people and not cars

+“Nobody is really approaching growing in the city from the standpoint of it being something that’s worth the labor cost,” said Andy Dragt, founder of City Farmers. “We think one person farming on two or three lots could make way better than minimum wage.” Urban Farming collective in Grand Rapids, MI sets out to prove urban farming can be profitable

+Is the key to ending climate change denial to simply tell people to "stop being dicks"?  

Monday, October 21, 2013

Ecological Economics Part II coming

The second half of the my pieces on Ecological Economics will be coming next week. In lieu, I have a ton of links for this week.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Tuesday Links has got a lot of links

+"With growing global energy demand, it is critical that we continue to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Renewable energy will play an important role in helping Alberta to reach emissions reduction goals and transition to a lower carbon future." Voting with your (Canadian) dollars: Climate Change Group Provides C$10 Million To Alberta Wind Project. 

+Huffington Post runs down some of the cooler ways that the urban poor are reclaiming public spaces in the Global South.

+“The unique thing about us,” he said referring to his family’s business Empresa Brasileira de Conservação de Florestas, “is that we were licensed by the government to detimber, to deforest part of the rain forest, but we decided not to.” Local company, Vimtrek, partners with Brazilian company to protect the rainforest.

+The EcoHouse uses different strategies to reduce the demand for energy, generate its own electricity supply, and further reduce the embedded energy in materials, water, and planting. This set of strategies, which can be replicated in any other project, consists of compact volume, optimal orientation, natural ventilation, protective envelope, thermal zoning, radiant cooling, recovered energy, efficient appliances, solar power, recyclable materials, natural water treatment, and native plants. After a year of planning, Oman finally moves to build their first EcoHaus, based on houses already seen across Germany.

+Well, that's one way to do it: LA Times stops running climate change denying letters to the editor.

+What a novel idea: Other legislation encourages towns to build "complete streets," that is, streets that have sidewalks and bike lanes in mind. MA. legislators move to incorporate healthy living in urban planning.

+Are cities the best place to combat climate change? Of course they are.

+Copenhagen decides to do something.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Thursday Links sprawls out

+I really want to avoid this sort of grave dancing, but anytime someone tells you that normal suburban crud building is profitable, just point to an article like this: Another suburban Atlanta mall is battling debt problems.

+A new report notes that over the past few years the majority of new development in the Atlanta metro area has been of denser, pedestrian-centric type neighborhoods that are more common in Northeast cities, suggesting that the suburban-type development has started to wane even in the most auto-centric places, reports The Wall Street Journal.

+If you're interested, the Atlanta Business Chronicle is hosting their annual Business Growth Summit on Oct. 24. It's just $59 to register. More info here.  

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Tuesday Links keeps it simple

+"What if some of the more generous central medians throughout New York’s street system were turned into green infrastructure: parklets that have been keenly designed to absorb and funnel storm water; generate solar electricity; and recycle food waste, which is another matter that Mayor Bloomberg is championing these days in the spirit of saving roughly $100 million a year by diverting organic residential waste from landfills." Mayor Bloomberg eyes a plan for using all the unused space in NYC. Finding creative ways to use dead space in our cities is the future.

+Other American cities have peered over the precipice and tumbled. Detroit is bankrupt, its downtown a hollow core left by the implosion of a great metropolis. That must not happen here. The Chicago Tribune looks for leadership in developing the next Plan of Chicago.

+The United Nations has advice for city planners around the world: Move people closer together. The UN keeps it simple with their recommendation for urban planning.

+Random Link: If you happen to be in PA anywhere near Dickinson College, they are hosting an awesome free seminar about ancient city planning. Details here.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Ecological Economics Part I: A Brief History

Americans have known implicitly that something is very wrong with the global economy for nearly 50 years, when the first stirrings of discontent started to shiver at the base of the economic pyramid. The 60's saw a large-scale protest movement that focused on the Vietnam War but also criticized the commercialization of American life in all its insidious forms. Though, hippies tend to be identified with the anti-war movement, tuning and dropping out was much less a critique of American foreign policy than a critique of the American way of life. The war merely gave a focal point to a wide range of special interests that would have otherwise had a hard time articulating just what they were frustrated with. That many of them were horrified by the deeper, long-term implications of the pro-growth, militaristic, corporatism, which emerged in the wake of WWII as the dominant expression of American exceptionalism didn't seem to occur to many of them. One has to wonder, if it had, would that have made a much better rallying cry than protesting the Vietnam war, considering nearly all critiques fell under the umbrella of anti-capitalism protest (feminist, environmentalist, ecological, anti-war).

At any rate, hitching their protest movement to the horses of war  had the ironic result of giving the protesters very little to be officially upset about when the war ended. Thus economic criticism fizzled in the 1970s and was nearly completely squashed in the 1980s as Reagan, riding a cresting wave of cheap fossil fuels and capitalistic enthusiasm, seemed to prove that perpetual economic growth was possible, and that America would remain at the top forever.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Thursday Links are totally thinking outside the box

+“Business understands the concept of dealing with risk, and climate change is the mother of all risks that we’ll face this century.” The Carbon Disclosure Project releases its yearly list of the world leaders in business for reducing carbon emissions. This has been the thing I find most shocking about business leaders' responses to Climate Change. Many of them are in the business of managing risk, and yet they seem to have a bizarre blind spot to the "mother of all risks." Consequently, there are tons of ways to capitalize on the scramble for carbon reduction in the next 20 years.

+By 2030, more than 60 percent of the world's population will live in an urban settlement. In Africa alone, the growth in population will equal the entire current population of the United States. Investment in the cities of the world, especially in housing, food, water, and sanitation probably represent the greatest opportunity for the entrepreneurial spirit over the next few decades. This article presents this in fairly dour terms, but every time I read about another worker housing complex collapsing in India, I just think, What a great opportunity to make the world a better place by investing in better places for people to live. If so many people are going to be moving into cities in the next decades, why not invest in real estate to house them now?

+Atlantic has 10 trends that every one of you should pay attention to. Between every one of these lines is an entrepreneurial opportunity.  

+This is an excellent example of thinking outside the box! Deep City Method is a framework for urban planners to utilize the ground underneath cities to help power the city and grow in a more sustainable fashion.

+So, what do we do? How do we build our urban centers so that we are both climate resilient and able to keep up with our growing population? How can we engage our communities and urbanites while we build the green job economy that holds such promise? On rebuilding our cities and infrastructure to grow jobs and provide a resiliency to the coming climate and resource difficulties. Could not agree more.
"Many cities don't recognize the potential of the ground they are built on," says Li Huanqing just finished her PhD at the Environmental Economics
and Management Laboratory at EPFL. What she hopes to show is that, if they go about exploiting their subsurface smartly, the investment can help cities grow in a way that pays off in the long term.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-09-urban-cities-underground.html#jCp
"Many cities don't recognize the potential of the ground they are built on," says Li Huanqing just finished her PhD at the Environmental Economics
and Management Laboratory at EPFL. What she hopes to show is that, if they go about exploiting their subsurface smartly, the investment can help cities grow in a way that pays off in the long term.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-09-urban-cities-underground.html#jCp
"Many cities don't recognize the potential of the ground they are built on," says Li Huanqing just finished her PhD at the Environmental Economics
and Management Laboratory at EPFL. What she hopes to show is that, if they go about exploiting their subsurface smartly, the investment can help cities grow in a way that pays off in the long term.

Read more at: http://phys.org/news/2013-09-urban-cities-underground.html#jCp


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Tuesday links is a perfect storm of lazy reporting

+NPR profiles an electric wire factory in western Georgia is staffed almost entirely by teenagers. They are there because of a partnership between a local company, Southwire, and the Carroll County school system. They teamed up six years ago to try to reduce the high school dropout rate. Strictly speaking this doesn't have much to do sustainability per se, though I like the attempt at finding unconventional solutions to intractable problems.

+NPR again: A perfect storm of sorts is leading some Western energy companies to step back from investments and operations in the Middle East. Companies see increased risk in the region because of the turmoil and violence following the Arab Spring. And, advances in technology have made it easier to produce oil in North America. This is more like a perfect storm of lazy reporting. The lede is really buried in this story. They mention that long-standing high oil prices are making it more profitable for companies to drill in unconventional places (like North America), and yet the reporter buys at face value the explanation that political instability is why oil and gas companies are willing to pay far more to drill in NA than the Middle East. Really!? The Middle East has been politically unstable the entire time they've been there, and that instability has been built into their pricing and risk assessment for decades, so why would that be a problem now? Could it be that Middle Eastern oil fields are starting to dry up and with oil prices so high and technology allowing unconventional wells to be drilled, it no longer seems worth it to deal with the politics of Middle Eastern drilling? Certainly not. That couldn't be it.

+AOL Founder Steve Case is ditching Silicon Valley for the greener start-up pastures of, like, the rest of the world. So, heads up to all you non-Silicon Valley start-up founders. He's on the prowl with his $200M Revolution Fund.

+This is how you do it! UPS pledges $2.3M to green organizations. Only problem is that none of them appear to be Atlanta orgs.

+Bob didn't come to this conclusion by way of a revelation. He studied the science, traveled twice to Antarctica, talked to the experts and looked at the evidence. His conclusion: Climate change is real, the consequences are dire, and we're to blame. The world's first Republican climate change believer is found in South Carolina. Naturally he was voted from office and replaced with someone from the Tea Party.

+And one more Climate Change post: Reaching agreement among hundreds of authors and reviewers ensures that only the statements which are hardest to dispute are allowed to pass. Even when the scientists have agreed, the report must be tempered in another forge, as politicians question anything they find disagreeable: the new report received 1,855 comments from 32 governments, and the arguments raged through the night before launch. In other words, it's perhaps the biggest and most rigorous process of peer review conducted in any scientific field, at any point in human history. It's real. It's happening. And we need to prepare for it.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Green Entrepreneurs of Atlanta

For any of you who live in the Atlanta area and are interested in the green economy, I've started a Meetup group and we are having our first meeting next Monday, October 7 at 7pm at the 5 Seasons Brewery in Sandy Springs. I wanted to get a group of like-minded people together who were interested in finding solutions instead of simply rehashing the wealth of problems we face. For more information you can check out the Group Profile page here.

For those of you outside of Atlanta, I suggest you do the same in your town. You'd be surprised how many people are interested in solutions.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Friday Links is all about climate change

I may run a few pieces down the road explaining the science behind Climate Change, but at this point I will just assume that if you're reading these posts you don't need to be convinced of the reality of Climate Change. Here are some links about stuff people are doing around the world to combat its effects.

+But, to start: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has just issued its latest report on how much we're screwing ourselves the state of man-made Climate Change, and unsurprisingly things are looking really really really really bad.

+This one's for the Ladies! Ban issued a message to the IWECI Summit stressing the "central" role of women in combatting climate change and underscoring that the pursuit of gender equity and women's empowerment "is a powerful tool in the race to combat climate change" and key to improving land productivity, improving the availability of clean water, reducing energy poverty, and promoting climate-smart agriculture and low-carbon growth. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki- Moon makes the case that women can take the lead on Climate Change policy.

+Environmental rag, Mongabay, argues that Climate Change mitigation is actually makes economic sense. This article mostly focuses on the costs of Climate Change, which is really just the tip of the iceberg, Retrofitting our homes, businesses, transportation, electric grid, power suppliers, and every other darn thing would be the economic equivalent of 3 World War II's and would give us the required boost to be able to settle into the post-capitalism, steady state economy that nature demands. Climate Change mitigation makes sense on practically every level, for the vast majority of people.

+Climate change is a collective responsibility that reaches far beyond the mandate of any one government. Perhaps it is the reality of this disempowerment that inhibits governments from acting on it. Combating climate change, however, can happen at the individual level, unlike many other areas such as health and education which rely on governance to exist. Action on climate change can exist both without government help and beyond it. This is not to excuse government from action, but rather to circumvent it – to act when government cannot or refuses to. This article from the Guardian basically sums up the whole reason I've changed the focus of this blog. Hopefully governments will turn around on these systemic issues and start to help, but the important thing is: we do not need to wait for them to act. We can act on our own, regardless of the policies or beliefs of our governments. In fact, I would argue we have an ethical duty to act on behalf of future generations, in spite of our governments' dragging feet. I'm glad to see this view expressed in a major news source.
Policymakers saw economic and environmental stability as mutually exclusive—you can only have one or the other. However, we are starting to see and feel that these two things are intrinsically connected. As a nation, the United States simply cannot afford to wait any longer to make a big change.
Read more at http://news.mongabay.com/2013/0925-reynolds-climate-policy-economics.html#JO8fV8gGOWFtST1B.99
Policymakers saw economic and environmental stability as mutually exclusive—you can only have one or the other. However, we are starting to see and feel that these two things are intrinsically connected. As a nation, the United States simply cannot afford to wait any longer to make a big change.
Read more at http://news.mongabay.com/2013/0925-reynolds-climate-policy-economics.html#JO8fV8gGOWFtST1B.99
Policymakers saw economic and environmental stability as mutually exclusive—you can only have one or the other. However, we are starting to see and feel that these two things are intrinsically connected. As a nation, the United States simply cannot afford to wait any longer to make a big change.
Read more at http://news.mongabay.com/2013/0925-reynolds-climate-policy-economics.html#JO8fV8gGOWFtST1B.99
Policymakers saw economic and environmental stability as mutually exclusive—you can only have one or the other. However, we are starting to see and feel that these two things are intrinsically connected. As a nation, the United States simply cannot afford to wait any longer to make a big change.
Read more at http://news.mongabay.com/2013/0925-reynolds-climate-policy-economics.html#JO8fV8gGOWFtST1B.99
Policymakers saw economic and environmental stability as mutually exclusive—you can only have one or the other. However, we are starting to see and feel that these two things are intrinsically connected. As a nation, the United States simply cannot afford to wait any longer to make a big change.
Read more at http://news.mongabay.com/2013/0925-reynolds-climate-policy-economics.html#JO8fV8gGOWFtST1B.99
Policymakers saw economic and environmental stability as mutually exclusive—you can only have one or the other. However, we are starting to see and feel that these two things are intrinsically connected. As a nation, the United States simply cannot afford to wait any longer to make a big change.
Read more at http://news.mongabay.com/2013/0925-reynolds-climate-policy-economics.html#JO8fV8gGOWFtST1B.99
Policymakers saw economic and environmental stability as mutually exclusive—you can only have one or the other. However, we are starting to see and feel that these two things are intrinsically connected. As a nation, the United States simply cannot afford to wait any longer to make a big change.
Read more at http://news.mongabay.com/2013/0925-reynolds-climate-policy-economics.html#JO8fV8gGOWFtST1B.99

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Wednesday Links is investing in sheep

+“Planners must adjust their development options to minimise the potential future adverse impacts of climate change and to take advantage of opportunities that may arise,” he added. Town planners in Nigeria work to ensure Nigerians are prepared for climate change. Our global issues can have local solutions, and this article from the Nigerian website Business Day shows one of th ekey ways to affect change locally, through urban planning and development.

+“Sheep offer a low-impact solution for controlling invasive plants on sites,” said Trees Atlanta Forest Restoration Coordinator, Brian Williams. “As long as the sites do not contain sensitive or endangered plants that we want to keep safe, sheep can graze and help us eliminate invasive plants until they are gone.” Trees Atlanta is putting 75 sheep to work getting rid of kudzu in the Decatur cemetery. This reminds me of another article I read a while ago about three creative entrepreneurs who were bracing for the new economy. One of the funniest was an Ohio man who was starting a lawn care company with a truck a couple of sheep. You heard it here first, folks, sheep are the future!

+And forgive me a little bit o' snark: The Atlanta Business Chronicle solves parking for everyone. Whew! One of life's greatest problems, finally solved. If only there was another way to think about parking and transportation.

+“One of the arguments in favour of using the language of risk,” Painter writes, “is that it shifts public debate away from the idea that decisions should be delayed until conclusive proof or absolute certainty is obtained (a criterion that may never be satisfied), towards timely action informed by an analysis of the comparative costs and risks of different choices and options (including doing nothing).” Thinkprogress has an interesting idea about how to move the needle on public perception of climate change.

Monday, September 23, 2013

A Christening of Sorts

A few weeks ago I wondered aloud in which direction I should take this blog now that I feel quite differently about writing and my purpose in this world. I think I may have had a little clarity about this subject in the last few days as my mind has circled around different topics to write about and a common theme has started to develop.

I have been keenly interested in global issues for quite some time (climate change, resource scarcity, population overshoot, urban development, rising corporatism, etc.), and these interests have found their way into my fiction and occasionally onto the "pages" of this blog. But privately I've been frustrated by my own unwillingness to commit to any real course of public action. On the one hand I am in no position to be sitting in a public park somewhere protesting the actions of our government, or strapping myself to the KXL pipeline. Yet, on the other I feel increasingly guilty about seeing so clearly the destructive path in front of us and still doing close to nothing about it.

In this way, I am beginning to understand that I am thoroughly typical of my generational cohort. While the Boomers have all the money and the power, it's pretty clear that they are close to clueless about the damage that they've done and are unikely to help in any useful way. The Millennials get a lot of slack for being naive and unreasonable technologists won't engage with reality long enough to put their weight behind anything, but I think that's unfair, since half of them are still too young to have a truly adult reaction to their predicament and the rest have graduated college directly into the teeth of one of the most ridiculous, grinding job markets in history. Let's give them a few years to throw a well-deserved tantrum before we expect them to grow up and start lobbing molotov cocktails.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Save the Planet Thursday!

+The Detroit Free Press has a detailed and exceedingly interesting account of how Detroit went broke.

+“Fifteen years ago, East Lake Meadows, a public-housing project with 1,400 residents, was a terrifying place to live. Nine out of 10 residents had been victims of a crime. Today it is a safe community of working, taxpaying families whose children excel in the classroom.” The founder of Cousins Properties wrote a recent op/ed in The Wall Street Journal about how to save failing neighborhoods. The article is unfortunately behind a pay wall, but here's a quick take from the Atlanta Business Chronicle. Not only is his view remarkably even-headed and thoughtful, but this got published in the WSJ. Wow.

+Since I'm going to be spending a good deal of time in the next few weeks chatting about ecological economics and the "Green" economy, here's a link to the introduction to the United Nations Environmental Programme's (UNEP) most recent report on the Green economy. It's an excellent primer on what exactly should be meant by Green and Sustainable. While I'm at it, you should all buy and read this book immediately, Supply Shock: Economic Growth at the Crossroads and the Steady State Solution by the ecological economist Brian Czech. Don't be fooled by the ridiculous title, this is not political shock schlock. It's really an easily-understood blow-by-blow account of the history of classical and neoclassical economics and how ecological economics is really the only way to move forward without destroying the planet. Its a brilliant, fascinating, and quick read.

+But don't worry, climate change is a liberal conspiracy.

+“Country-wide, we have observed appalling habits of garbage disposal, careless littering and insufficient availability of latrines and toilets. It is embarrassing that many Ugandans go on with their day-to-day duties oblivious of the filth that engulfs them,” Vision Group Editor-in-Chief, Barbara Kaija said. Uganda's leading newspaper group, Vision Group, decides to combat the sanitation problem in the country by awarding the title of Cleanest Town to whichever Ugandan town gets its act together fastest.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Peak Oil and the Bet

After reading about the now-infamous 1980 bet between the Neo-Malthusian biologist Paul Ehrlich and the Cornucopian* economist Julian Simon used several times over the last week to justify renewed optimism about the world's energy outlook, I feel compelled to write a quick primer on what exactly Peak Oil is (and by default nearly every other scarce resource on the planet).

To begin with: the Bet. Basically Ehrlich believed that, after geologist M. King Hubbert's theory of US peak oil production in 1974 was effectively proven correct**, resource scarcity would be reflected in the prices of several key resources (metals, oil, etc.), since increased demand and lower production requires higher prices, right? Simon, on the other hand, believed that technological progress would increase efficiencies and allow us to effectively "get more for less," and that increased efficiency would be reflected in lower prices over time. In 1980 the two bet $1000 on a basket of commodities, Ehrlich betting that the prices would be higher ten years later in 1990, and Simon betting they would be lower. Unfortunately for Ehrlich he was a victim of timing, since the Bet exactly corresponded with the last great push into conventional oil fields and a simultaneous splurge in new exploration technologies in the extractive industries, thus prices did in fact go down throughout the 1980s. If the two had bet on this same basket any time in the last 23 years Ehrlich would have won nearly every time.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Save the planet Thursday!

+ Atlantic Cities has a nice rundown of 11 great documentaries now streaming on Netflix about urbanism and sustainability. I've only seen The Pruitt-Igoe Myth and Carbon Nation, which are both amazing, but I assume the rest are really good too.

+ In some parts of the country, pieces of land have already opened up and only await a few chance seeds to blow in and begin the process of converting the rugged landscape into lush forest. Greenland will soon live up to its name.

+ This is an old link (from 2009), but I heard about Bogota's amazing bus system in Carbon Nation and thought this was a good series of pics that highlight how unique it is. Basically, the buses run on special lanes that have no other traffic, so they can run more efficiently, more like trains than buses. This allows the city to have a more versatile and dynamic public transportation system than those with traditional bus or rail lines.

+ Under closer examination the events in Syria appear to stem from far more complex set of pressures, beyond religious tension and government brutality, with its roots in the availability of a natural resource – water. This is worrying as decreasing water availability is far from a localised issue, it is a systemic risk across the Middle East and North Africa that is likely to be further exacerbated by climate change. Recent study finds that water may be the underlying cause of the Syrian civil war.

+ The Guardian profiles a possible means to helping ease water scarcity.


Monday, September 9, 2013

Cocaine is a hell of a drug

Ahhhh Syria. Is it even worth commenting on the growing crap circus that this has all become? I'm not entirely certain it is. On the micro level, what is happening in Syria is clearly horrible, and Americans are right to wring their hands and exclaim how terrible it is that people have to die. This is the correct reaction, and warranted emotions. But on the macro level, the hypocrisy of getting involved in Syria is mind-boggling. For one, you have the obviously troubled history of the US getting involved in wars for "humanitarian" reasons. Humanitarianism is probably the worst reason to get involved in an armed conflict, if for no other reason than it opens such a gigantic can of worms that it's best to just leave the top on. Why get involved in Syria when there is terrible suffering happening in North Korea or China or several Latin American countries or Sub-Saharan Africa? Why haven't we invaded Mexico over the thousand women who have died just across the border in Juarez that are so obviously connected to the drug trade? Since we can't possibly save the world from everything then why get involved in Syria? Furthermore, we have practically no history of actually achieving any of our humanitarian goals when we get involved in these sorts of conflicts. We tend to just make things worse, or end up as the bad guy so that one side or both aim for us instead of their original target.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

The World's End

Last night I went to see The World's End, the latest film by the British comedic trio Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost. For the most part I agree with the bulk of the critics: It's a funny, heartfelt movie that goes careening off the rails at the end. Having seen all three of the films by these guys, I have to say this was the least funny, but the best overall film of the three. Though the premise seems perfect for a long series of romping set pieces--5 aging friends get together to finally complete a pub crawl they never finished when they were 18--Wright and company lace the storyline with a little too much bitter realism to make most of the gags stick. Far from being a criticism, this is what makes the movie so good. We begin with with stock characters, effectively a British version of the gang from American Pie all grown up, setting out to conquer their home town one last time, and end with an emotionally charged buddy flick that somehow teases out of a ridiculous sci-fi plot so many of the very real emotions we all feel as we grow older and find that life has not turned out the way we thought it would.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Addendum

As a rule I don't hold well with ambiguity. I like precise things, cataloging things so that I know where I stand in relation to them. I suppose I've always understood this about myself, but reading Walter Isaacson's amazing biography of Steve Jobs lately has made me realize that for all the millions of differences between me and Apple's mercurial CEO, one of our similarities is this penchant for making everything in our lives binary; either good or bad, amazing or shit, etc.

This need to categorize everything has lead me to some confusion about what to do with this blog. I originally intended this blog to be an outlet for my writing that did not specifically fit into another publishable category, and for a way for me to celebrate the outstanding achievements of my alt-lit colleagues.Yet over the last year I've found myself less interested in creating other worlds so much as finding a way to positively influence the one that we live in right now. This has lead me to read a lot less fiction and a lot more news and non-fiction books--specifically those about urban planning, climate change, and resource scarcity. As the saying goes, writers must be readers, and a possible corollary to that is that writers can't help but start to write what they read. I have begun to do just that.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

I'm a Pretty Butterfly, Y'all!

Yes, I'm going there.

Not too long ago my son got a cool little kit that allowed him to send away for some caterpillars and then watch them grow into butterflies right before his very eyes. Then he got the chance to release them into our backyard after about 10 days. He thought it was really nifty, and I have to admit I did too. For such a cliched metaphor the image of an ugly caterpillar stuffing its face and then burrowing down and emerging as a beautiful butterfly* is a dead useful one for describing momentous change. This is probably because there are really very few instances of any other animal doing something similar in such a striking fashion. Sure reptiles molt and birds change their feathers and frogs grow from tadpoles, but nothing captures the imagination nearly as much as the transformation of a caterpillar into a butterfly.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Cleaning Out the Fridge

Last weekend my wife and I took our son to the beach for a well-earned 3-day trip. It was surprisingly relaxing, given our family's history of travel together, mostly because the hotel we were at had an awesome Parents' Night Out option on Saturday night, which allowed my wife and I to act like adults for a couple of hours and our son to be able to play with other kids. It was mos def a win-win.

Anyway, I say all this because while we were enjoying ourselves in paradise, mother nature was busy destroying our neighborhood back home. Our house was thankfully spared, but there was no less 10 gargantuan trees knocked down within three doors of ours, and the power was out for almost 3 days. Given that our house was spared and we were out of town the entire time the power was out, it was probably the least painful storm experience I've ever gone through.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Publication is Mine!!!

As could be expected from them asking me to read last week, the great folks at Loose Change Magazine have featured my Dali painting of a story "Oasis" in their latest issue. You can read the entire issue and my story here. You can check out Loose Change here.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Insert Graceless Plug Here

Another AWP has came and went, and once again I was not a part of it. I made sure to take a week long hiatus from Twitter so that I wouldn't be forced to come face to face with that good ole' high school feeling of being the only one not invited to a totally sweet party, man. That isn't the case here because I was as invited as anyone else was, but there is something to it, to the feeling of being on the outside looking in. The world is cliquey--it's a fact of life--and indie lit is no different. Not a judgement call; an observation. People like who they like, artistically and personally, and those preferences necessarily create Cool Kidz and Not-So-Cool Kidz. The problem with not being one of the Indie Lit Cool Kidz is that Indie Lit is already the Not-So-Cool Kidz of the publishing world, so one can't help but wonder: am I just simply unlikeable?

I don't so much have an answer to that, though my son likes me alright. I think.

Speaking of feeling like you're in high school again, I am now volunteering twice a month with this truly impressive program for graduating seniors where they have to complete a 6 or 7 month writing seminar and for their troubles they get a four-year scholarship to a select number of really nice universities. The group I'm helping coach are all going to Boston University, so kudos and all that to them. It was fun, talking about writing to a group of young writers. I'm sure they thought I was really old and lame, but I had a good time and it was nice to see writing was alive and well among the youngsters.

And speaking of high school writers...*insert graceless plug for my pet project here*

It's supposed to be 70 degrees this weekend which means that spring has probably sprung for reals in Atlanta. Time to start taking Zyrtec. Time to get a sun burn. Time to find my sunglasses and put them on my face. Time to kick the ball around. Time to drink beer on patios and laugh...a little at least. Time to wake up wake up wakey wake and look around and take stock and all that happy crap. Time to feel good for a little bit.

Time to get them sunglasses and put them on my face.

Also, if you're in the Atlanta area this Friday, I'll be reading a story of mine and fidgeting uncomfortably at this awesome Loose Change Magazine event. Details here.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Josh Fuson Takes on The Supremes



The Supremes, the latest all-original record from Colorado-based singer-songwriter Josh Fuson, is a masterwork of political critique couched in highly enjoyable, super catchy tunes. Consisting of ten songs based ostensibly on the lives and times of the nine Supreme Court justices, The Supremes rarely wavers from the barely-electrified indie folk that makes Fuson’s music so recognizable and so gratifying. Like the matching black robes the justices wear to court, these ten songs are all dressed in similar clothes (light drumming, bass, acoustic and electric guitar, some organ/keyboards), but what they’re wearing isn’t really the point. Like the justices themselves, what’s inside these songs is as different as Scalia from Sotomayor.

Ranging from nostalgic tales of home and childhood (“Don’t Let The Sun Catch You In Bed”) to bitter, blistering political broadsides (“No No I’m Sorry You Can’t”), The Supremes is the most resonant during those moments when Fuson sheds light on the interior lives of these enigmatic and powerful figures. Songs like the haunting and delicate “To Cecelia” could be about anyone, but set within the context of the album, it becomes a candle set amidst the roiling and hostile emotions of a life on the Supreme Court. Listening to this song it is easy to imagine Justice O’Connor sitting in her bed at night, the lights off, her eyes closed, her mind running and wandering.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Old Town

I sat down not too long ago and finally wrote a short story that'd been festering in me for quite some time, years really. As I am likely to do these days, I wrote it all out in one go. It's based on the National song, "Lemonworld," and the story shares the title with the song. I feel like it might be the best short story I've ever written. Maybe it isn't. I'll let "the market" decide.

I've written three short stories in the span of four months, which makes the latter half of 2012 one of the most prodigious periods of my short story writing career. None of these stories have been accepted yet, though I suppose I'm not pushing very hard either. I now have six shorts that remain unpublished, and with the exception of one, I really like them all. I'm beginning to wonder if I should look instead for someone to publish a collection. A short story collection with my name on it sounds like a joke, honestly, but maybe that's where this is headed. Or maybe all these stories suck and they haven't been published because I'm a crappy short story writer and no one wants to publish them.

That's a definite possibility, too.

I went to California last minute to visit my grandma who is doing very badly. It was very emotional, but I don't really want to get into it here. I'm telling you about the trip mainly because I finally got to see Lincoln and Argo. They were both very good movies, though I found Lincoln to be strangely depressing. I found it hard to be too happy for all these men who spent their lives fighting for the abolition of slavery, knowing full well that blacks would neither be able to vote nor have anything resembling equal rights for a full century and quarter after the passing of the 14th amendment. I saw the tears in these men's eyes as they saw the culmination of years, and I could not join them because I knew that what they thought was a culmination was just the passing of one hurdle and the beginning of another, longer race.

It makes you think about your own life, and what is possible, and what you can possibly do to make a lasting impression. It's a difficult thing to do. Time is like waves licking at the shore. No matter how hard you try to leave your footprints in the sand, the water just washes it away. Even supposed great men don't make much lasting impressions. The conquering work of Alexander was practically undone by the time his grandchildren were adults. All that bickering of our founding fathers, which they thought they settled in 1787 with the signing of the Constitution, would come unglued just one generation later, the Federalist papers burned in cannon fire.

I'm not sure what the answer is, but...

I was gonna write more, but this seems like a good place to end.

I'm not sure what the answer is.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Carry On

This is naturally--as all times are really--a period of immense change for me. I am not working other than my assorted projects and freelancing. I am staying at home with my child, and I am growing out my hair and my beard and I am thinking big things about who I am and who I could be. Most people never really get the chance after the age of 18 to stop and reflect and have the breathing room to ask the question, "Who the hell am I, anyway?"

I'm not sure I like the answer I'm getting. Or rather, I'm not sure what the answer is and it scares the shit out of me.

I'm the sort of person who only enjoys only the first half of a vacation because I spend the second half too worried about how many days I have left and how the vacation is almost over with. This is sort of like that, I suppose, but with maybe a lot more on the line.

So, I focus on those things I can do every day to affect change. I'm reading a lot, I go to the playground with my son and I watch him learn all those important things most of us learn unconsciously, as he's doing now. He talks to new kids, gets rejected, learns how to deal with that, meets more new kids and repeats the process. He's very resilient and honest. He asked a kid the other day straight up if the kid would play with him. The kid said no, and Collins looked over at me with the most sincere hope I've ever seen--he truly thought I could fix this. I couldn't, though. That's just the way it is; sometimes people don't wanna play with you.

We listen to Blur and fun. all the damn time because those are the only two bands that he knows every word to every song, and he sings and sings and sings. He knows the words. He sings.

He sings: "If you're lost and alone, or sinking like a stone, carry ahh-ahh-ahh-ahh-on."

Though I know he probably has no idea what he's singing, it feels like he's singing it to me.

"If you're lost and alone, or sinking like a stone, carry on, dad. Carry on."

There's a library at the top of the hill by the playground and every day we go to the library and we read two or three books and we borrow one more to take home and read before bed time. It's a simple ritual but he likes it and I like it, and it reminds me of when I was a little kid and the entirety of the world seemed contained within the city library. I suppose it was. I suppose it still is.