Wednesday, December 28, 2011

But What Exactly Is That “Something” We Should Be Good For?

(This is a companion post to "Be Not Simply Good, Be Good for Something" 12/27/2011)

“To observe morality is to attain mastery over our mind and our passions. So doing, we know ourselves.” – Gandhi. 

For Gandhi, the bedrock of morality resides within truth—satya; but make no mistake, it is not the form of truth you and I are accustomed to. It is subjective, self-reflecting, and defined by introspection; yet it carries a certain common force, and pervades all social, political, economic, and egoistic conventions. In a way, Gandhi rests his morality in a sense of subjective norm, established by introspection and willingly consented by an individual through actualization of its irrevocable nature as satya—truth—the mastery over mind and passions. So morality comes from the understanding that such truth exist and is shared by a common human experience, but it is not manifested outside of one’s own actualization of freedom of the soul.

For Gandhi, one’s look at life’s freedom forms the truth one seeks thus giving rise to a morality we can share. One’s freedom is beyond the forces of politics, while wars serves as a natural extension of politics by violent means, freedom transcends politics and thus war is not an extension of its existence—freedom is nonviolent by nature, and its movement is naturally nonviolent.

Gandhi is firmly grounded in this sense of self-rule: swaraj. To him, such thing is independent of alien control and economic influences; greed and special interests stand below.

“Let there be no mistake about my conception of Swaraj. It is complete independence of alien control and complete economic independence. So, at one end you have political independence; at the other, economic. It has two other ends. One of them is moral and social, the corresponding end is dharma, i.e., religion in the highest sense of the term. It includes Hinduism, Islam, Christianity, etc., but is superior to them all. You may recognize it be the name of Truth, not the honesty of experience, but the living Truth that pervades everything and will survive all destruction and all transformation. Moral and social uplift may be recognized by the term we are used to, i.e., non-violence. Let us call this the square of swaraj, which will be out of shape if any of its angles is untrue. We cannot achieve this political and economic freedom without truth and non-violence, in concrete terms without a living faith in God, and hence moral and social elevation.” 

If we become free, our society becomes free; the freedom of an individual comes from each person establishing self-rule. If freedom is removed from an individual, he becomes an “automaton and society is ruined.” Civil disobedience is one thing in anarchy, but entirely another in a self-ruled anarchy: in anarchy, there is not end but a final destruction—it discovers the truth in death; in a self-rule anarchy, the end is cohesion and the means are by way of self-reflection in attaining the Truth.

“The only tyrant I accept in this world is the ‘still small voice’ within.”

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Lighter Side of Dark Matters: Dilemma for a Midwestern Man from Beijing.

Living a life is about the choices we make, not the final destinations. Spending the holidays with family and friends made me realize our choices are often made in loyalty to our perceived people and communities—they define where we are to go and what we are to see. It is by these extensions of people that we define our views and shape our political will; it is by the support of those who are near and dear to us that makes us who we are—an existential whole.

For me, the choices are complicated. I have two homelands and my allegiances are divided across the Pacific and placed with two very different peoples.

China is my birthplace and the place of my childhood. I have not, and perhaps never will, shed the rosy glasses I have seeing my people as a proud and powerful nation rich in history and capable of great things. I must believe in all things good in their strength, it is a necessary choice I make.

The United States nurtured me and gave me knowledge to study China from a unique perspective many Chinese do not enjoy. The U.S. is a land I defended with life, liberty, and in pursuit of my own happiness. I am forever indebted to the U.S. and its people; I am forever bound to its success as a proud and powerful nation. It too, is a necessary choice I make.

You see my dilemma. I must live a contradiction and make something of it.

My dilemma seems to magnify with the recent economic turbulences and China’s new aggressive “soft” strategies around the world. For a people of much humility, China’s new emergence in global politics and economic participations draws criticism from lack of transparency and understanding of the Chinese culture and politics. All these things make my Christmas dinner conversations complicated and incomplete. The best I can do is assuring people that China has noble intentions in its sovereign wealth investments and has a limited experience as a free people under the autocratic rule of the Communist Party; it therefore must make its decisions to the best it can and adopt to the international norm as steady as it can to internally accommodate one-fifth of the world’s population with 10% still living below poverty.

With the recent tumbles of European and American markets, I sense China has a distinct advantage and opportunity to reserve its humility in pride and power. With its conservative fiscal policies, its huge sovereign wealth reserves marks China an enticing investor to bailout our irresponsible bankers. Yet China, more recently, is also attempting to upgrade its economy in sustainable ways and lift more people out of poverty while balancing its sustainable growth with environmental, social, and public health impacts. This makes it a great potential for U.S. businesses to offer assistance in that upgrade and leverage profits from an emerging consumer middle class that is taking hold in China’s new free market economy.

Things, however, are not always as simply as they seem to be. China may have the wealth and power to invest and draw investors, leverage aggressive central policies to shift its focus from pure GDP growth, and entice sustainable growth across the board; it does not have the contemporary experience to govern by “rule of law.” The remains of China’s imperial past still lives on, its rule of law often misinterpreted as “rule by law” either intentionally by those in power or as consequences of ignorance of the people.

This makes U.S. cooperation difficult. While we wish to assist with China’s market upgrades and stand to benefit from China’s investments, we fear China’s lassie fair styles and unhindered intentions to strip U.S. companies of their intellectual properties and resources. We fear China will place our welfare after its own and we fear that we stand to lose on the deal. Regardless of how much China wants to assure us of their progress in “rule of law,” we fear the uncertainties and the visibly invisible Chinese autocratic decision making entity—the Communist Party.

The fears are warranted. China has often been said to be an old people of relative young constitution. Its understanding of inherent rights and freedom of choice almost infant compared to western countries, yet its traditions and philosophical understanding of things that matters to the market place build on the foundations of inherent rights and freedom of choices deeply entrenched in uniquely Chinese ways—Confucianism, Taoism, Buddhism, Legalism; all uniquely adapted to China’s 56 ethnic minorities. While secrecy is China’s attributable character, it is also only a partial understanding of China’s uniqueness. China’s secrecy came, in part, by way of foreign invasions and decades of distrust for western style profit driven policies and decision makings. Add that the new Chinese sovereign power, the Communist Party, aimed to abolish all that is traditional to China during the Cultural Revolution, China now has only a limited scope of context to deal with its new role as a super power on the world’s stage. I would think China is entitled to such deeply entrenched distrust for the old ways of capitalism, not only because of ruminant of old new communist ideologies, but also because of things we now know about our own practices—American corporate greed, social irresponsibility, and moral indifference towards others. If we lived and came from those places, how is it that we do not fear this from others like China? As the New Deal shaped a generation of agency laws that controlled and advanced our own market process, we must give China time to develop its own New Deal to do just the same. Yet we face the limit of our aging policies the future for China remains uncertain.

We fear China for its lack of positive control and consistency under rule of law, we should equally fear our own lassie fair political and economic indifference in the years to come. While we have hope in our abilities to overcome our own faults in the likes of Occupy Wall Street, we should equally hope for such positive progress in the Chinese Communist Party’s internal changes. Neither nation is entirely free of corruptions nor is either entirely full of moral goodness, the tough question is to ask what we can do together in light of our imperfections.

You now see my dilemma with my family dinner conversations.

While you make up your mind about China and its upgrades, and while you decide if there is any chance the U.S. can come to an agreement with China on joint efforts in terms of financial progress that will advance the goals of sustainability, keep in mind there is no evil plots behind China’s closed doors; only generations of distrust and resentment resulted from foreign invasions and internal political struggles. We can blame China for its inconsistent rule of law practices and aggressive and irresponsible monetary policies of the last two decades; we must consider these in context of a larger history and decide if China can make reasonable progress in light of its infant contemporary understanding of international norms of rights of the market and people and solidarity.

How must we reach an agreement in defining the rule of law for both nations under the current economic pressures and our uniquely advantages? How can the U.S. price and protect its intellectual currency and how can China exchange their savings for those things? Can the two nations make sensible decisions about their view on one another to come to grip with our global sustainability crisis? Whose responsibility is it to ensure global transparency and responsibilities of practices to ensure adequate standard of living for the 100% of our human experience?

I’ve come to learn that life isn’t about the final destinations. It’s about the choices we make and the journey as the result of our choices. In college, I was fascinated by decision theories and process models; but these days I know better to think I can control or even understand the journey. I hold on to whatever little freedom of choices I have in the matters and just roll with the waves. At the end of the day, I feel much of a successful surfer than I do as one living a productive life; my fortune cookies have always said I would be a beachcomber, it just never told me I’d be a good one.

So much is the path of a nation: a People’s choices determine the fate of a country and there is no guarantee to positive progress; less even any meaningful method of measurements or understanding can be applied to such things. A nation’s democracy, or whatever hybrid form it takes, vests in some form of transfer of power from collective decision making to a final autocracy, the power rests with the people who is willing the consent to be governed and the decisions are taken out of people’s hands. We come together and form societies and name them as we please. We can never be sure they are good societies; less one day the planet no longer has the carrying capacity to allow our path, our autocracy breaks, and we face anarchy.

For one who hopes cooperative anarchy will ultimately win out the day, I dread the thought of anarchy before we are ready for such idealism.

My doom and gloom philosophical indeterminism aside, I feel, however, the urge to do what I can to contribute to the collective decision making process. Or else I stand to lose myself in an existential cynical cycle, a vicious one that looks not to living a life but to death as final consequence.

I had hoped I outgrew my Nietzsche days, but I fear at times our planet and the human experience is currently undergoing its very own existential crisis. So I educate myself to the best of my abilities and I inform myself of the topics as much as humanly possible. I know what I do is insignificant and incomplete, but I do what I can with the knowledge I can possibly acquire. I hold this to be the hopes of great men like Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, but that is entirely my own opinion. How you make your choices is your decision; and it is a necessary one, or else we stand to fail together in a spiral of existential, unsustainable, crisis.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Art of Gift Giving

Did you know between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, an extra million tons of waste is generated each week by Americans?

One of the first few things I noticed about America and Christmas day was how frequently I see joyous people carrying bags of trash to the curbside after all the screaming excitements of gift openings. The idea of wrapping something in beautiful and expensive paper just to have it torn away escapes me, but after 20 years of living in the States, I have given in to the practice. Still, every time I carry out my own bag of perfectly good wrapping paper torn in pieces in a large trash-bag, I think about my father’s tale of how he once collected empty cigarette boxes and used the blank insides as writing paper for school. What I throw away each year in wrapping paper would’ve supplied him for a whole year’s worth of note taking. For that, I am ashamed.

Times likes these ask us to pause and reflect for a moment. What is wrong with this picture?

According to the Clean Air Council:

Each year the average American office worker uses about 500 disposable cups. We throw away enough paper and plastic cups, forks, and spoons to circle the equator 300 times annually. From those discarded disposables, over 7 billion pounds of PVC are thrown away and only 18 million pounds of that, about one quarter of one percent, is recycled.

Every year, Americans also use around 1 billion shopping bags, creating 300,000 tons of landfill waste. Less than 1 percent of plastic bags are recycled each year. The rest ends up in landfills. Light breaks them down into smaller and smaller particles and they then seek to contaminate the soil and water and are expensive and difficult to remove. When the small particles from photo-degraded plastic bags get into the water, they are ingested by filter feeding marine animals. Biotoxins like PCBs that are in the particles are then passed up the food chain, including up to humans. What an irony next time you buy a can of tuna that requires two plastic bags to wrap and carry around.

In 2003, 290 million tires were discarded by Americans and130 million of these tires were burned as fuel attributing to pollutants in our air. In 2004, 275 million tires were reported in stockpiles. Tires in stockpiles often serve as a breeding ground for mosquitoes and a habitat for rodents, spreading diseases causing havoc on the health of the poor who cannot afford but live near such things. These tires in stockpiles also retain heat and can easily ignite creating toxin-emitting, hard-to-extinguish, fires that can burn for months.

Of the 2.25 million tons of electronics (TVs, cell phones, computers, etc) retired in 2007, 82 percent were discarded, mostly to landfills. About 304 million electronics were disposed of from US households in 2005. Two-thirds of them still worked. These electronics not only contain rare metals and parts that we could reuse or recover, but contain poisonous elements that may cause havoc on our lands.

And finally, do you drink bottled water? Did you know at least 90 percent of the price of a bottle of water is for things other than the water itself, like bottling, packaging, shipping and marketing? 44 percent of ‘purified’ bottled water sold in the U.S. started out as municipal water. It takes about 1,100 to 2,000 times as much energy to produce and transport the average bottle of water as to produce the same amount of tap water.

EPA reports that approximately 33% of municipal waste are recycled, but this does not account for waste that are burned or filled in unpermitted landfills and incinerators.

The unregistered landfills usually do not have adequate barriers to prevent land contamination and will eventually break down and leak leachate into ground and surface water. Most people who build these off-the-map-landfills use plastic, which is not inert and allows chemicals and gases to pass through. In 2008, a survey of landfills found that 82 percent of surveyed landfill cells had leaks, while 41 percent had a leak larger than 1 square foot.

Incinerators are even worse problems contributing as a major source of 210 different dioxin compounds, plus mercury, cadmium, nitrous oxide, hydrogen chloride, sulfuric acid, fluorides, and particulate matter small enough to lodge permanently in the lungs. In 2007, the EPA acknowledged that despite recent tightening of emission standards for waste incineration power plants, the waste-to-energy process still “create significant emissions, including trace amounts of hazardous air pollutants.”

Of course our problems are not going to go away if we simply ignore them. Mathematical evidences suggest acceleration and tipping points with wider problem margins. In 1960, each American only generated 2.68 pounds of waste per day. In 1970, the figure was 3.25. Since 2000, when the average American generated 4.65 lbs of waste per day, and only 29% was recycled. American per capita food waste increased to more than 1,400 calories per person per day in 2009, an increase of approximately 50 percent since 1974. Between 1997 and 2007, bottled water consumption in the U.S. more than doubled, from 13.4 gallons per person to 29.3 gallons per person. About 40 million computers have become obsolete in 2007, about twice as many as in 1998.

The production cycles for PVC related products, plastic forks, cups, etc., are energy intensive. PVC’s annual Chlorine production now requires nearly the annual output of eight medium-sized nuclear power plants. Imagine what we can do with all that energy or how much less health and environmental problems we would face if we cut away our need for those plants.

About a million tons of plastic PET water bottles were produced in the U.S. in 2006, requiring the energy equivalent of 50 million barrels of oil. 76.5 percent of these bottles ended up in landfills.

Recycling one ton of plastic bags costs $4,000. The recycled product can be sold for $32. Municipalities have determined there is a real cost in handling these plastic bags, making the total economic burden of these plastic bags a drain on our productive progress. Surely there are better things we could do with our money, time, and energy.

If we recycled all of the cell phones retired each year, we would save enough energy to power 18,500 homes for a year. Recycling one million laptops saves enough energy to power 3,657 American homes in a year. Recycling one million cell phones allows 35,274 pounds of copper, 772 pounds of silver, 75 pounds of gold, and 33 pounds of palladium to be recovered.

It has been estimated that recycling, re-use, and composting create six to ten times as many jobs as waste incineration and landfills. Currently, only Japan, Germany, and China have active recycling laws mandating certain level of recycling economic performance. Only China has taken the extra step and mandates aggressive production efficiency and effective material management process in its recent Circular Economy Laws and Clean Production Laws.

This year, as you unwrap your presents, enjoy your holidays with family and friends, think about how much we can cut back, how much we can change, and how much we can adopt to bring better energy efficiency, effective material management. 

Happy Holidays:

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Our People, Our Planet, Our Social Economy - We Decide.

(Revised 12/15/2011)
With one GOP candidate coming from the China Ambassador’s desk, we can guess the significance of China's status with our domestic policies in the next few years. I have no doubt the political mudslinging invariably will tangle all sorts of harsh criticisms for China into the next election cycle; but business will go on and we still hope to make progress. After all, people are driving politics, we see it in the Arab Spring, I hope we see it in the Occupied movement.  Irrespective of the politics, I have to believe we the people will continue to learn and advance, or else we stand to fall together.

But before we can expect progress, we have to layout some anticipations and understandings to properly assess our relationship with China in the years to come. Is China the new boogieman for our children’s bedtime stories or is China the new friend we so desperately need in combating global deterioration?

Which side do we care to stand on?

First and foremost, China is the largest and most demanding nation on earth. We cannot simply ignore it. China houses one-fifth of the world’s population with 10% below poverty (less than $361 per year). It also has a serious resources scarcity. The country as a whole only captures 8% of the world’s fresh water supply and the very industrial process that lifted so many people out of poverty contaminates much of that water. While you see the lights and fast developments of Shanghai and Beijing, you do not see the destitute of villages and people displaced who had paid for the human price of these developments. As China’s social policies continue to focus on GDP growth, it has recently shifted some of its attention to the environment and sustainable growth.

The task facing China’s leadership is a mounting one, perhaps more of a challenge than our own political inactions in Washington—China knows that it must act, but how to act is the sixty-four million dollar question and time is running out for everyone.

Second, China is a very old nation; while Monotheism was taking roots and causing mayhem in the western world, China experienced similar turbulence in often frequent dynastic changes. Yet China remained one identity, one nation.

The changes of dynasty are often as brutal, if not more, than the Crusade. In part, China was held for the last two thousand years under the brute force, in part it was held under the oppression of thoughts--FenJianSiXiang--old school thoughts of obey and order to a structure amongst other outdated thinking. Women and children were oppressed and considered property to a degree under the Confucian thinking. Communism did eradicated the problem to a sensible degree, but we still see remains of the discrimination deeply entrenched in culture.

The XinHai Revolution had hoped to empower people to be free of such things. Sun Zhong Shan (Sun Yet Fat)—a man whose passing was untimely and left China in a wreck. Following a world war and civil wars, China was split in two: the Nationalist Party who now controls Taiwan and the Communist Party who now holds the main lands. While Taiwan was heavily influenced by U.S. interest, Communist China was behind the closed doors--distrustful.

Third point, China today is in a period of rapid transition. Next year, when we choose between President Obama and whichever GOP candidate, China will transition its power. The current leadership, Wen Ja Bao and Hu Jin Tao are both trained engineers--technocrats. They are technocrats who came from turbulent times and saw the capabilities of "Feng Jian Si Xiang" (I still have not found an accurate translation of this word but it generally refers to old thinkings of the imperial days) and the madness of the Cultural Revolution. Their successors also technocrats. I get the sense that these particular people believe one’s own destiny and determination is outside the confines of gods. They believe China is a proud nation who can self-determine without an image to represent the order and continuity of a Chinese society. They did not make themselves out to look like emperors, but founding fathers of a nation like George Washington and the such.

The ones who also stake a claim are the sons and daughters of the old red guards who made the Communist China what it is today. Along next to them in line is the generation born after 1980 (BaLingHo) with a very limited sense of the real Chinese modern history but a ready access to the Internet.  What kinds of leadership can we expect from these two groups is anyone's guess and how we shall see China then is at best a sucker's bet.

Dealers, roll the dice please.

Whoever these Chinese leaders are in the next 20 years will determine how well the U.S. can tolerate their policies, how much the world can tolerate China’s consumption, and how much the Chinese people can tolerate its own incompetence. Since China no longer has a charismatic leader on the pedestal, it must now vests its fate in the hands of those that can come through the gauntlet of Chinese political machine. (I often hear criticism that China is not a democracy because of its one party system, but someone once told me to look at the number of Chinese Communist Party membership, totaling around 70 million people, and ask if we can’t possibly expect all 70 million, the size of France, to act in a unitary mindset.

From talking to my father, I get the sense that China’s politics are just as fractured as it is complex, just as much as we would expect here in the U.S. China is a one party system but governed by old time connections and grassroots powerhouses; some even Mao had once depend on to win his kingdom. Irrespective of China provincial separations, however, the ability to implement policy changes from the top is China's distinct advantage.

This brings me to my fourth point: China could be more of a partner than an adversary in the years to come but we must know how to influence China and work with the coming generations. I know there are people in China who would like to see the Chinese adopt a more adversarial mentality to strengthen its rule of law modeled after the international norm. I on the other hand, would like to see more Americans understand the Chinese softer approach leverage a uniquely Chinese Confucian sense of harmony to implement mediations. We hear China’s rule of law problems is often attributed to local protectionism, provincial governors wanting to record the largest amount of wealth created, but I get the feeling China's party leadership now recognizes the importance and deep entrenchment of Confucius thoughts in the Chinese psyche. This is the harmonious thinking China is now promoting, a softer power around the world, a general principle that will dictate its rule of law giving the provincial level and various sectors of its society maximal degree of legal maneuverability. China is trying to have its cake and eat it too, don't say we haven't tried for ourselves.

My fifth and final point is this: China is a complex nation with 56 distinct ethnic minorities. It is united in language and ontology by Confucianism, Taoism, Legalism, Buddhism, and a uniquely imperial FengJian thinking that is embedded in the Chinese families; it’s power unified is undeniable—1.3 billion people consuming and producing; it’s destiny not yet determined; its society in transition. What we do with this information will determine how China will choose to interact with us. The combined powers of the U.S. and China will shape our sustainable world in ways unimagined.

Regardless I suspect picking on China will still be the popular thing to do to rally votes in the next year. But if we are to disregard what the politicians says and expect to make positive progress on our own with the Chinese businessmen and women, we must pick up where the politicians fall short. We must understand the issues and do sensibly what we can to help China upgrade its economy as well as its sense of law and order from a uniquely Chinese perspective. We must help China continue to lift people out of poverty and act sensibly towards the environment and each other. Although China lacks clarity and consistency in its laws and enforcement, there is nothing that impedes us from doing the right things in sharing socially responsibility equally and stand to profit from having a better relationship with China. 

China has an obligation to its own people to rebuild a sense of virtue-ethics embodied in Confucianism less the blatant violations of international norms. We ourselves must interact with China on more socially and environmentally levels as well. Blind capitalism in China is counterproductive to the developments just as partisans politics is to our own—empowering the people to do what they can in responsible ways seem to be universal solution to both of our mutual problem. To do this together we stand to gain a better understanding of our own destinies in the spirits of sustainable progress from China's new presence on the world's stage.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

We the People demand that you OWS take care of our Constitution.

Down with big government, take back the commons, in solidarity we unite and we DEMAND

--signed, your #ows protester. 

But what do those words mean? I hear people argue anything from complete removal of all forms of government, to just removing the ones or parts they don’t like, or worst, to wanting the government pay for their drinking habit.

Who gets to decide what kind of government we should have? What agencies to preserve what to offer to the chopping block? How should our tax dollars be spent and what businesses should we encourage?

Isn’t that the jobs of our politicians? But we are a free people, and we like our independence more than anything. In that independence we slid the scale back in our favor for capitalism and progress and we say “We the People” governs. Private rights are preserved in contracts, free and independent from government interference. Business carried in orderly fashion because it was in the best interest of all parties represented and protected by the lives of eighteen year-olds soldiers and marines who thought they were dying for something completely different.

To the credits of business negotiators, they do their due diligence and agreements are often fierce, intelligent, comprehensive and cooperative; businesses interests preserved and profit maximized for all sides concerned—less those not represented at the negotiations. Even the lawyers walk away happy, fat, and paid.

Why can’t this take place in the political arena?


Where are the interests of We the People in these private business negotiations?

What about your rights and mine when the kind of material are chosen to package a dozen eggs, milk, or a loaf of bread? Who should voice our concerns to the lawyers about our health, fair and equitable opportunities, impacts to life, liberty, etc., in these boardroom festivities?

Or does privacy really means a sort of exclusive 1% club only a few can belong and you and I are only to sit in the dungeon to wait our fate and the return of a Spanish Inquisition?

Representation translates to power to equalize ladies and gentleman; and it is my opinion that the level of representation we lack causes our sustainability crisis—economically, environmentally, and socially.

Not only have our politicians failed us in the political process to cooperate and progress, they have failed to adequately protect us in the private realm that which our Constitution aimed to protect—against the tyranny of the few.

That’s why you all are upset right? That’s why there is such a thing as Occupy Wall Street? You are not rebelling because of the actual existence of bankers and politicians, you are protesting because they are not doing their jobs, right?

Call me an immigrant, because I am, but explain to me why would we elect people to office in the first place? If not to carry out the jobs of representation to sit at the negotiation table with the powers that be and say:

Hey you, private interests, listen up! I know you are making billions in profits and you employ thousands in the process; but stop giving me this crap about you are not liable for the public at large.

If you are making a good living off the backs of the poor, making them suffer the worst of environmental, social, and economic conditions, then you must act like the caretakers and take care of your people. Or we will pass laws to have the courts enforce such things against forced labor, aiding and abiding foreign government in murder or causing arbitrary disappearance, seriously polluting our waters and air and causing the slow and painful death of our people.

And for those who would entertain the idea of completely rid of government and corporate interests, being a self-professed anarchist that I am, I ask you: what then?

What would happen if we be rid of all government and corporate interest? Do you suppose that we just wall ourselves in our territories and arm ourselves and then rob and pillage our own?

It is precisely because we felt the need to protect people against such tragic things that we formed the United Nations, we declared the Universal Human Rights, and we forced our politician’s hands to sign and ratify protection against torture, to protect civil and political rights, to protect women and children. Believe all the conspiracy you want, but I happen to think the idea that a world of people can gather and work together to promote such things as fundamental principles of equal rights and self-determination a good thing. I happen to think international peace and security is necessary and progress can be a cooperative thing.

I believe in those things the same way I believe it’s a good idea for a nation of people to come together, elect sensible officials to sit at the table with the power that be and say: We the People are represented, they wish to have adequate rights protected under the Constitution and various international norms of human rights enforced. We are here to represent We the People and we ask you to play nice and be responsible for the profits you are making. Or else may the Constitution be your only protection.

--signed, an immigrant wholly confused about the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Trust the revolution - from industrial to informational, a new age of reckoning.

Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something - your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.
                                                                                            -- Steve Jobs.

Frank Sonnenberg recently wrote on the Triple Pundit:

[O]ur ability to successfully weather [a] transition [between the industrial age to an information age] will determine our competitive position in the world market, which will, in turn, affect generations to come.

The first time I heard anyone mention the phrase “information age” I wasn't thinking about sustainable practices or an information driven ‘revolution.” I was more worried about playing online chess and chatting with someone I did not know from Wisconsin.

I guess if the industrial progress led to a paradigm shift in our way of thinking production, society, and consumption, there is no reason to doubt that an informational progress leading to a paradigm shift would not include the same things. After all, new information helps us rethink production in terms of scarcity; it helps us redefine society in ways we could’ve only imagine; and new information has led us to discover the impact we make with our cheap cars and easy credit.

Today, we are in a scramble to discover what twitter and facebook can do with a Arab Spring; we eagerly await citizen reporting to reveal the latest corporate irresponsibility; average citizens like me can sit comfortably in front of a computer or dabbing away on an iPad to learn the news about our water scarcity, soil erosion, and the latest in sustainable innovation in some remote village in China. These are the things I took for granted growing up in the information age, but the process of realizing the impacts of this information revolution is still new to me.

So when Mr. Sonnenberg asked “Are We Using Yesterday’s Weapons to Fight Today’s Wars?” I was intrigued.

I wanted to know what are the weapons of yesterday—from the industrial revolution—and what are we equipped with today—from the information revolution—and what kind of war are we fighting?

The Industrial Age:

The industrial age brought us capital-intensive processes that explored our natural resources, utilized rapid assembly production methods and hierarchical management orders, and tapped unprecedented media marketing avenues by radio waves. This is the world I grew up and this is the world of nostalgia I often reminisce: Saturday morning cartoons intertwined with ads for the latest transformer toys.

The industrial age is like a blind giant working the battlefield with nothing more than a hammer and a wrench: where trees needed be brought down, brute force was adequate; where the process needed improved, he wrenched along in controlled steps until a satisfactory answer were achieved; none of his actions were brought into the broader context—nothing he did mattered to the giant next to him, they are in competition and the world is still too big to worry about the limiting capacities. Wars waged and people died. Children cried and adults turned a blind eye.

The Information Age: 

Then the information age transformed the way we see the world and how we interacted. Media was slowly replaced by self-motivated reporting and credible sources slowly drowned in the new age of gossip and tabloids. People got smarter and recognized the trickery and fought back with their own passions and demanded to know and to change.The news industry is in a state of flux right now, but I have no doubt it will reemerge as a new moral compass once it sorts out a sustaining business mode. IN essence, we will have to decide if we want to support a trusted news source in the information revolution--that is yet to be determined.

The information age is demanding our societies to be knowledge intensive; it is asking us to educate our children not only in vocational skills but also in philosophies that gave meaning to the passion we so carried and to be able to sensibly digest the information we are presented. The information age also demanded for an educated workforce to bypass traditional process design and redistribute process improvement methods to those who would care. This was when I became acutely aware of Six Sigma and thought to learn its place in this new age of information, process thinking, and holistic imaginations.

It is also at this critical juncture of informational revolution that we saw social media marketing push the limits of scarcity even further. It seems that not only had the informational transformations brought us new insights, but also new ways to enhance and strengthen our old industrial thinking.People are buying more, buying more frequently, and buying more useless things--from the Internet.

More people are buying because of the end-game of an industrial revolution; technology made it possible for even farmer’s daughter to know the latest trends from Paris Hilton, social media and Amazon made it possible for every church boy to buy and own his very own customer satisfaction.

Companies are pulling consumption trends rather than pushing trends, but we see the consumers fall short, so far, the kind of socially responsible trends we need to sustain our global growth. We are the ones letting companies pull the irresponsible nature out of us. We have no one to blame but for our own irresponsibilities. We thus arrive at our sustainability crisis, we see ourselves short of becoming what is possible, and the world demanded answers. We see socially, and technologically, organized groups come together to topple regimes, large corporations, and demanded change. We are changing, fighting a war with ourselves, with our past transgressions. 

It seems the war we are waging is a remnants of an industrial revolution at odds with the demands of an informational emergence. Sonnenberg claims that the “critical success factors of the Information Age are intangibles” and argues that “you cannot use yesterday’s measurements of physical inventory to gauge the results of trust, creativity or a passionate workforce.” Sonnenberg, it seems rightly, places the battlefront on the measure of “empowerment,” on building “camaraderie, trust, and lasting relationships.” It seems the informational revolution is about people’s strength, not so much about the planet’s carrying capacity. We have seen the planet’s carrying capacity and no one in their sensible mind can question the limit of that anymore—well at least not the ones who are focused on progress anyway.

Sonnenberg argues that empowering the workforce, encouraging risk and discouraging fear, eliminating waste and improving business processes, communicating in an open and honest manner, building trust among employees and consumers, nurturing long-term relationships with suppliers and clients, working hard to develop an impeccable reputation, and unifying your organization around a mission and shared values “are likely to be among the key determinants of success in this new age.”

These are what some refers to as “soft” issues—soft because it’s either not effective management practices and do not enhance results or because these things are difficult to quantify and measure and thus make management uncomfortable and uneasy. But as we have seen in this recently enlightened information revolution, these soft issues, such as “trust,” is precisely what is driving profit, growth, and innovation.

I don’t know how many times a day I hear people tell me that they want to be a social innovator or programmer encoding virtue and moral guidelines into a existing productive infrastructure. Dig a little deeper, I find these social innovator wannabes are really information architects, generating new ways of processing information in the larger context to facilitate process improvement, reshape feedback loops to improve competition in the information age. Sonnenberg notes: if businesses are to thrive in the global marketplace, they must be able to outshine the competition in critical areas such as . . . measuring the critical success factors of the Information Age in such things as trust.

So as information becomes more accessible, trust becomes more important to suppliers, producers, consumers, etc., we see the war between industrial age and the new information age waged in the front of a new emerging consciousness—a self-driven consciousness that asks tough question and demand justifiable answers. On this new battlefield we see the emergence of a new society that is more distributed to the people, less concentrated on production but more focused on responsible and sustainable growth.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

On language and nano-cleanup.

I did not learn English the traditional way: A B Cs to sentences. I learned to speak from reading and I learned reading by jumping from word to word in text books guessing to the best of my ability what the sentences meant to me. From the limited vocabulary I had at the time, it was the most efficient way to guess what I am to do with my homework. I did not have time to learn my A B Cs correctly or my grammar properly because I simply had to write an expose of Hamlet with only “yes” “no” and “my name is.” The faster I adjusted, the less I felt behind; coming from a very competitive grade school in Beijing, feeling behind the curve is a tragic thing.

Funny story about “yes” “no” and “my name is . . .” (please excuse the attention deficit)

On the second day of my coming to America, I had to catch a bus for school. I was all slicked out in my white pants, collared shirt, a vest, and my hair glued back with my mom’s hair gel. I felt American, like Bruce Lee American only modern day. I found the bus stop no problem, there were already a few kids waiting. I stood to the side, tried to stay out of view to avoid having to speak. Not that I wasn’t curious and didn’t care to ask anyone about this new thing called America, I didn’t know how to ask—I doubted anyone spoke Chinese.

I got on the bus, sat towards the back against the window in an empty row. Just like those days I would rattle against a window on a train from Beijing to Lanzhou, I rattled half-asleep to school.

What I failed to realize was the bus twisted and turned through a well-lit gas light district picking up even more kids. My empty row slowly filled up with chatters and laughs.

The girl who sat next to me turned and said something. She was polite and warm. She had a smile and strange sounds came from her mouth. I assumed that was what American English sounded like. All I could muster was “I no English. My name is Jin.”

I couldn’t understand why she was so puzzled and why she kept asking me things and expected me to answer her sensibly. I told her repeatedly “I no English.” So leave me to my rattles.

Thankfully the bus ride was short and the next few months were a blur I no longer remember. I didn’t even catch her name.

Crazy days and crazy nights
Shallow pools and dizzy lights

That was the whirlwind of my adolescence—in a desperate rush to learn how to survive by skipping the details and focusing on the meaning of things. I read anything I could get my hands on to avoid having to talk to people on the school bus. For the most part I did not understand what the pages were saying, but I had a general sense of the books’ stories. Then I began to know the sentences but still completely ignorant of some words. Slowly, the words came into focus and my English became acceptable.

At the beginning though, another kid who sat next to me on a school bus asked if I knew how to read or am I just looking at the words. I think he wanted to make a conversation. I told him I was just looking at the words trying to learn how to read. He looked puzzled and avoided me for the rest of that year. I was too busy to notice while lost in the plots of Lonesome Dove.

Today, I have developed a habitual neglect for the details from my reading habits. I notice this in my studies and in my writing. Everyone who had the ill fortune to know me knows that I am not one for perfection. But I am one with a lot of misguided passion. They forgive me and allow me the time to adjust still—I never knew growing up could be so hard.

The advantage of growing up is seeing these things for their correspondences in things. I hear a lot of chatter these days about the EPA coming under fire. Everyone seems to want less regulation and more independence. The argument is roughly that regulations stifle innovation and economic growth. The less government regulate, the more we are able to create.

That’s the same as saying “the less we speak a common language, the more we can succeed in building a community.” How much sense does that make?

I believe the EPA is not just some arbitrary regulatory body, our courts and the Constitution make sure it is more than that. Agencies are more like me, picking through what they can sensibly understand from the politicians to create a common recorded body of language with regards to society. Poor sad souls, so misunderstood; trust me, I know.

If we see agencies, such as the EPA, as tools to give us this common language—a common understanding—of the elements of our society, we are better positioned to strive for cooperation and progress jointly. Those who make an argument to rid of government regulations neglect this essential agency function: to define our common language of progress (checked and balanced).

Of course you don’t have to agree with me. The fact is our agencies do not see themselves as the great knowledge builders of a common context. They see themselves more as regulators, so I don’t fault the House Republicans for their misdirected efforts. Their call to arms against the EPA is only a reaction to the Agency’s own doing.

So it’s time we call this to our attention: the American Agencies compose a body of experts in various fields of knowledge and practical experiences best suited to define a common context for our society. From this context, we can speak a unified language to understand our problems and create more efficient solutions. Our academia should be focused on teaching, not “publish or perish” that is supplemental to agencies’ incompetence in defining the knowledge context.

This would probably make a lot of talents that work at the agencies happy. Finally they can work to make meaningful contribution to society—not just the paper pusher that they are today. They are charged, essentially, the work to understand the stories, then the pages, then the words, then write new stories of our common history.

To give you an example, the Danish Environmental Protection Agency (DEPA) took the initiative to develop a new categories of nano-identification/categorization to build a knowledge base with regards to nano-pollutions. Nanomaterials are being used in a rapidly increasing number of products and are available for industries and private consumers.

The DEPA thought that risks of these nano-pollutions should be defined as a combination of the likelihood of exposure and adverse effects, i.e. any chance of an adverse outcome to human health, the quality of life, or the quality of environment. They have developed a screening
tool, NanoRiskCat (NRC), able to identify, categorize and rank exposures and effects of nanomaterials used in consumer products based on data available in the peer-reviewed scientific literature and other regulatory relevant sources of information and data.

Their primary focus was on nanomaterials relevant for professional end-users and consumers as, as well as nanomaterials released into the environment. The wider goal is to help manufacturers, down-stream endusers, regulators and other stakeholders to evaluate, rank and communicate the potential for exposure and effects specific applications of a given nanomaterial. Their proposal is to map and report groups and categories and color-code exposure potential.

The benefit of this is that regulators could use NRC as a screening tool to identify possible
uses where risk management measures may be further examined. Companies can use NRC to communicate develop guidelines. Down-stream users (e.g. consumers) can use NanoRiskCat to select the safest material on the market. Academics and nongovernmental organizations can use the tools to learn more about what companies know about exposures and effects of their nanomaterials.

Everyone works together to make progress.

This is, IN EFFECT, what the U.S. Agencies—the EPA—is already doing. Our Congress passes laws with check and balances for profit as well as social and environmental justice. The political compromised statutes are often vague and ambiguous. Agencies decide on the best course of interpretation and submit their rules for notice and comment. The industries and NGOs, as well as individuals, respond. Then a final rule is offered in a concise general statement (often hundreds of pages long) on what the right thing to do is.

The process fails at the voluntary compliance from industries. Given a strong motive for profit, companies will try and either push the boundaries of agencies’ enforcement power or completely ignore the agencies. The Courts are often called upon to resolve these things.

So let me ask this: if we remove the body of experts who are help us interpreting what we should be doing, are we left to the individuals and industries to self-police their actions? Have we not seen what they are capable of?

But on the other side, are we so sure we cannot expect one day the industries become symbols of our community progress, taking Corporate Social Responsibility to new heights?

I’ve made a lot of progress from my “I no English” days. I can safely say our society have also made significant progress form the days of rampant pollution, discrimination, lack of du respect for the elderly, etc., (the list goes on). I continue to learn my English and filling in the details as I go along. I hope our society is doing the same.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

And now for something completely different.

From Quiet Peace to Living Lives to Let Go – a Kaleidoscope of Hope.

(I served with Mo, Doc, Medina from 2005 to 2006. We had been roommates in Iraq and when our chow hall was bombed we had been walking together to grab lunch. That was the day we thanked our lucky stars and mourned the loss of many. Times like those create deep introspective souls.  - jin)   

Quite Peace - by Doc Medina,

December 25th 1998
Bamberg, Germany

sketch by Medina
He stood alone in a dimly lit room
staring out of an open window.

In the foreground the branches of a tree
made bare by the winter chill.

In the distance a snowy German landscape at dusk,

though he knew there was a castle on a hill,
on the horizon the clouds had hidden it from view.

Aside from the snow on the red rooftops there was not much to admire,
yet, this view brought a peaceful stillness to his soul.

The barracks were almost empty.

Most soldiers had gone on leave and the ones who stayed
were out having a holiday meal.

He had made it a point to stay away from everyone today.

Eating a frozen pizza pocket for dinner,
he wanted to avoid any casual conversations or holiday greetings.

He couldn't even remember calling home today,
rewarded by a few minutes of silence and absolute quiet in his soul.

What was this? 
In the moment, nothing was and nothing had ever been.
He closed the windows and went to bed - in the quiet and peaceful of his soul.

December 1999
sketch by Medina
Camp Bondsteel, Kosovo

He sat on the wooden steps of a C-hut holding a lit Romeo and Julieta cigarrillo.

The winter chill brought a familiar stillness to the air.

Once again he experienced what would be a quiet melancholy,
if it wasn't for the absence of emotion - in the quiet and peaceful of his soul.

A moment in time when his world moved in slow motion
if it didn't come to a complete stop in the quietness of his peaceful soul.

Bewildered by these amazing moments of perfect peace
he allowed his soul to soak it in.

May 2005
Mosul, Iraq

Mosul, Iraq, 2005 - Medina (right).
The stryker ramp dropped revealing a surreal scene of chaos.
To the right Recon soldiers attempted to put out the fire from a detonated car bomb.
In the smoke filled streets, families brought their wounded children out to receive aid.
In this hectic he felt that quiet stillness again,
everything began to move in slow motion
and even the screaming of those wounded children were almost inaudible.

He was trained well, bandaged adults and children on auto pilot. 

It was not a cold day,
but his blood ran cold as it did on those peaceful winter days. 
All was well. 

Just when things seemed possible,
he was handed a small girl warped in a bloody blanket. 

The blast had taken a large portion of her back completely away. 

All the quiet moments of peace and quiet stillness from his soul would not undo this moment of reality.
Yet, the quietness of his soul were the only thing that kept him from breaking.

Yuma, Arizona

canvas by Medina
On a cold day, like today, I am thankful for those quiet moments that have nurtured my soul throughout the years. Don't know what I would have done without ever experienced that blissful peace. Now, I know the purpose for the stillness of a winter chill.

___________________Living Lives________________To__________________Let Go________

Sunday, December 4, 2011

A Rough Glider's Tour of Sustainability and Food Safety Rules in China.

A sustainable culture requires the freedom of expression to ensure the forces of a governing body can be held transparent and responsible for the people they are to govern. Without this foundation, all talks of people, planet, and profit falls empty to inconsistent enforcements and irresponsible innovations.

But political idealism alone is not enough. A sustainable culture then requires the governing body recognize its obligations to care for its governed while balancing social welfare with the spirit of innovation so that stagnation is afar and progress is consistent and responsible. Or else we have a sustainability crisis with symptoms of social inequity and environmental injustice. Idealism of civil and political rights are checks and balances of social and economic rights of the peoples as well as the obligations of the states—all people as they come in communities and collective political interests—guaranteed by such things as the Constitution.

In the development of global human rights theories, we see this cyclical advancement as civil and political idealism—often dubbed as first generation rights—transfer power to the developing governments thus affording a transformation into developed nations supporting a welfare state—enshrining the second generation human rights of social and economic welfare. First generation human rights such as free speech and political independence allowed social and economic rights to flourish; but at the tipping point of welfare reaching excess, we see the market lose confidence and transparency retarded by mass ignorance wagging the tails of media dogs. This is precisely what has happened in Europe, only they are too proud to acknowledge that they are at the end of an era and have reached a dangerous tipping point of losing sight of their idealism so defiantly shown in the French Revolution, the Enlightenment, through the Magna Carta, etc. Europe is at the mercy of its own youth and their once spirited transformers are now a renewed oligarchy. Be warned, the U.S. is on this path and unless we enlighten ourselves, we have no other higher expectations than continue to push for the separation of the 1% away from the 99%.

China, on the other hand, is attempting to upgrade its status as a developed nation and coming from a slightly different way of achieving their sustainable culture. Although equally as far from the goal, China has developed a robust social and economic policy first at the expense of its entrenched Confucian virtue ethics and what western thinkers would call civil and political rights. China in essence developed its second generation rights to the extent that they can first, while still immersed in the dark ages of FengJianSiXian (irrational old thoughts—I know of no accurate word by word translation for this Chinese thought), with respect to civil and political rights. The rights of common man was thought to have been distinguished by the 1911 revolutions, yet the revolutions themselves only achieved little; China soon reverted back to its dogmatic worship of an emperor in the likes of Mao and Deng, continuing its FengJianSiXian well into the 21st century. Perhaps today, without an identifiable and charismatic leader, China really does have a chance to develop a robust civil and political system, along with a confident rule OF law understanding, to allow China emerge as a powerhouse with regards to SUSTAINABLE THINKING without the presence of an emperor or a philosopher king.

We do, however, see China struggle with government corruptions, inconsistent application of rule of law, and cronyism local protection in a vacuum left by Mao, Deng, and involuntary separation from Confucius teachings. We also see China undertake a transition recognizing its need for robust civil and political idealisms so defining of American Exceptionalism. Beginning in 1911 and delayed by world wars, civil wars, famines, a Cultural Revolution, and various impacts of blind capitalization in a flash of half of a century, we see China loosening its grip on political intolerance, religious insensitivity, and of course an embrace of its old Confucian ways.

We see signs of a shift towards more robust civil and political rights in China as China's state-run media and web users criticized a Ministry of Health rule allowing small amounts of potentially lethal bacteria, ones that sparked the MRSA scare, in frozen food. The health ministry ruling followed a series of recalls of products, including dumplings made by Synear Food -- one of China's largest frozen food producers -- because they contained traces of staphylococcus aureus bacterium. The recalls were forced by the people’s awareness and their loosening confidence of government’s ability to carry its duties and obligations; but rewriting the rules to disclaim levels of liability from the state is simply unacceptable by the people. It’s amazing China has not yet shut down its Internet due to this kind of political discontent and it’s more surprising that Chinese media, wholly state owned, is joining the dissent.

The People's Daily, a paper I grew up reading in China, and usually the Communist Party mouthpiece, urged authorities to "address public anxiety" after the rule’s revision.

"Authorities cannot attempt to fudge public concerns over food safety," said the article, written by Jiang Yun.

"In order to rebuild the credibility of food safety standards, they should... consider whether the making of the standards is open and transparent."

Chinese Internet users went even further:

"According to the new standard, ... toxin is allowed in foods as long as the amount is not to the lethal level," wrote one blogger under the name Tianxiaqimou.

China's food industry in the recent decades is plagued with safety problems while trying to adjust production levels to its population increases and cultivatable land decreases. Traveling to China, you can expect 40% of your diarrheic experiences to traveler’s diarrhea, but the other 60% could probably be attributed to bad hygiene, lack of food safety awareness, and simple disregards for the law. One of the biggest health and safety problem emerged in 2008 when large amounts of the industrial chemical melamine were added irrespective of the law in dairy products and in baby’s formulas. In September last year, authorities cracked under pressure and called for tougher penalties, including the death sentence in serious food safety cases. But at the same time, China is yielding apparent in the new weaker rules from the MOH.

But why has China loosened the rule that itself has deemed politically necessary? I could speculate this to the rarely addressed capitalism problem running afoul of virtues of social responsibility but I think China addresses this enough. I would also attribute this to China’s separation from Confucian virtue-ethics but I think China is embracing Confucian teaching as of recent. To be productive to the conversation, I want to alert you to what the U.S. stand to benefit and how we must do so to promote sustainability—by the virtue of Corporate Social Responsibility.

Frost Brown Todd’s China Desk recently noted U.S. companies may be prime targets for China’s crackdowns but American companies also stand to benefit from China’s new adaptation of industrial food culture.

“Wal-Mart was recently sanctioned almost $600,000 and ordered to close its 13 stores in Chongqing after it was discovered to mislabel ordinary pork as organic for a higher price.”

“On the other hand, this incident may very likely set Wal-Mart back and become a great opportunity for its high competitors to take advantage.”
"[W]estern companies manufacturing food-related equipment may also find themselves gaining grounds in China. A month ago, the local government in Shanghai announced that all the restaurants in Shanghai must install oil/water separators in the kitchen by the end of 2012."

American companies—with the specialties in equipment and expertise in management knowledge developed from years of compliance with FDA and EPA stringent regulations—can export those things and help their Chinese counterparts meet the rising levels of Chinese environmental laws and mounting pressure from consumers. The take-away here is, as contrary to some politicians who would love to be rid of the EPA or FDA, government regulations with a sense of transparency and fairness for the people is ultimately beneficial to one’s own sustainability culture, but also may just turn out to be profitable to a emerging global market place.

China and the U.S. may have took different paths to sustainability and their various approaches from first generation civil and political idealism or second generation social and economic interests are wholly in contrast, we come to understand that neither nation has the right approach but jointly we can stand to benefit from harmonizing our strategies and mutually benefit our people and societies. Perhaps China can learn a lot from the U.S. about free speech and leveraging its power to embrace China new sense for Rule of Law and disregard the need for worrying about social instability resulting from its own incompetency; the U.S. can learn a few things from China’s once ancient Confucian virtue-ethics and incorporate into our own Corporate Social Responsibility doctrines to shape the new paradigm of Sustainability.