Monday, January 30, 2012

Embracing the Intrapreneurs in Your Organization.

A while ago a light-bulb went off above my head: there are just not enough opportunities to go around for all of the people interested in becoming a social entrepreneur.

To become an entrepreneur, you need some funding, a good team, a clear vision, and then you brace for full speed and hope failure is not an option. To be a social entrepreneur is more difficult; you need all of the things mentioned above along with a social conscience to disclaim the bottom-line for environmental and human impacts, all the while you are fighting laws that are not favorable in to your socially responsible business model.

So the chances of social entrepreneurs changing the world in the next decade are rather slim; and that’s when I realized it will not only take the social entrepreneurs, but social intrapreneurs as well, to really make a difference. It will take all of us, focused on the purpose of doing good for social and environmental causes, to make a difference in a paradigm shift from the old business model to a new environment where sustainability will thrive.

That is exactly what eBay echoed at the GreenBiz Forum in San Francisco.

eBay was not built as a “green” company; but it has found success in embracing and empowering its own employees, as well as its buyers and sellers, and has transformed itself to be the eye candy for every hot blooded do-gooders of the sustainability cause. In partnership with the U.S. Postal Service, eBay developed the first ever Cradle to Cradle-certified shipping box; it has also developed a 100% reusable shipping box for its electronics; and more recently, eBay has partnered with Patagonia to encourage people to buy less and buy used. 

“eBay’s partnership with Patagonia came from an eBay employee meeting a Patagonia employee at a business conference; the idea to install Bloom Energy fuel cell boxes on the company's campus was similarly employee-generated -- and now eBay gets 16 percent of its campus' energy use from renewables, thanks to the Bloom boxes.”

To date, eBay boasts 300,000 participants, buyers and sellers, of the site, and counts them all among members of his green team. Its CEO, Donahoe, notes that “sellers and buyers are regularly sharing best practices for minimizing the impacts of shipping products purchased online.”

“Some of the ideas to come out of those suggestions include the Cradle to Cradle box, as well as the reusable shipping box.”

eBay has taken on the sustainability challenge to empower its users from within—a suitable strategy for any large organization to consider when making its sustainability changes using its very own social “intrapreneurs."

By empowering these self-motivated innovative people from within the organization, growth is a natural thing; by giving a cause to the people and making them take ownership of that growth, the company benefits, and profits, from not making any official endorsements or investments at all.  Their employees and customers all the while are building brand confidence and loyalty amongst other value-added to the organization. 

"The worst thing I could do would be to make it official -- I think it'd lose its energy," Donahoe said. "People are more engaged when they own something. When our community thinks it's their idea, they bring energy and enthusiasm to it."

A Most Often Misunderstood One.

A man, looks as if he had not been eating for days, is slowly moving along the sidewalk. He is wearing dirty cloths and looks improvised. He stops every few steps, closes his eyes, and seems to be talking to himself deliriously in some strange language.

Imagine you are kind hearted religious person, a Christian; do you
a) offer the man a place to stay and some food? Or do you
b) walk by and pretend you do not see him and pretend as if the man needs no help? 
What if I told you option “a” was the wrong thing to do?

Would it make a difference if I told you the man is a traveling Buddhist monk and he has been on a fast and is walking across the lands in slow, deliberate, steps in meditation; that he needs neither food nor shelter, and your offering offends his sense of self-imposed suffering?

But how would you have known that in the beginning?

My wife was recently presented with this case scenario in her “social change” class. Her first gut reaction was that the man may not need help at all.

“It could’ve been his culture or self-determined condition to be that way. We don’t know that he is homeless, needs or wants our help. It's culturally imperial of us to assume that.”

She said.

“How dare we assume to be of the better and that he is of the worst, and that we assume the man needed our moral righteousness to intrude his ways?

But almost everyone who had heard this thought the man was homeless and needed help; and almost everyone had thought it’s our obligation to help.”

She screamed at me in frustration.

“When I tried to explain that there may be more to the story, almost everyone shut their ears; as if listening to anything but their version of the moral rights was wrong, and I, along with this man’s world, am objectionable.”

“Yes,” I said.

“It’s probably  because we came from the sentiments of colonialists, and our sensitivity resides in guilt. We rarely stop and ask and listen. We just assume. In many ways, we are still trying to colonize the moral high grounds leaving the rest of the world at our impious imperfections suffering our ignorance.”

All of this is to just make us feel better, making our lives the more comfortable: because we would never have to confront things; because we would never have to live with someone else’s reality. It’s an easier thing to do to assume the man homeless and we the saint; it’s much harder to ask and learn about his religion, his convictions, his actions that shapes his realities—it’s much harder to get to know the saint in him and the ignorant in ourselves.

John Lee of the Washington Journal recently criticized China’s proposed carbon tax, arguing that the timing China’s carbon tax is suspicious; and coupling with a possible slowing in China’s economic growth, the Chinese government’s actions are “little more than clever political theatre, mixed with passing the economic buck.”

A while ago, I saw similar criticisms for China’s aggressive Clean Production Laws and Circular Economy Laws, mounting to not much more than China’s failure in its sense of enforcing American standards of rule of law in a Chinese legal context. One law firm predicts that China will continue to indulge; while another argues that China, as a developing nation, ought to protect developed nation’s intellectual property interests and buy more products from the U.S. to solve its own environmental problems.

First, China has not had a robust Intellectual Property (IP) legal regime in its two thousand year history. Its IP are all thought to be open sourced to the public. When it was regulated in China’s history, it was regulated by the emperor to be used for the good of the society, not for individual profits.

So I’m not sure the whole calling China to enforce more IP rights is likely to go anywhere anytime soon especially there are huge economic incentives for China to not enforce the many IP claims.

As for China’s overindulgence, I’ve sentimentally sided with the Chinese people a while back. I hold my beliefs firm in that China will have the will power to not only stop their overindulgence, but they are capable of fully employing their unique understanding of their own laws to conform to international standards with respect to social, environmental, and economical legal norms. So any argument that Chinese laws are too generalized misses the point that the Chinese people are not accustomed to the way westerners write their laws. In order for laws to be effective in China, it must muster with its entrenched formalities and rituals as well as slogans and general principles from the central government.

As for John Lee’s argument, I think he is simply guessing as to China’s true intentions—offering unwanted criticism to one who is walking along his own path. Lin Mingche and Yang Fuqiang wrote a very nice rebuttal to John Lee’s article. I highly recommend that you read it here. 

China has a very unique understanding of social organization in formalities and rituals, influenced by over two thousand years of Confucius teachings; but the philosophical foundation of those Confucius thoughts has been largely severed from the social consciousness since the 1940s.Only empty rituals remain. I know this is one reason China is reluctance in promulgating “clear and precise” western style laws and enforce them consistently across regions. It is simply not realistic to expect the Chinese people forget two thousand years of legal understanding and adopt to a system that is so pervasively as to amount to another colonization—in the market place as well as on moral grounds. No people would accept this. It’s like asking if the U.S. would suddenly adopt China’s current unitary party system and allow a pervasive philosophy take over its social governing system all the while asking the American people to eat with chopsticks.

No more forks and knifes boys and girls. 

. . . and the man in his dirty cloths continues to walk in search of his own sense of belonging in the world. Before you think of his status or his needs for guidance, you should ask first and spend time to listen to his stories.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

LEED and Re-Inventing Our Communities.

The dirty secret in our country is that we live in very much segregated places and our children are attending more and more segregated schools. Even after decades of Brown v. Board of Education—where the U.S. Supreme Court declared segregation unconstitutional, we still can't seem to find ourselves accepting equal opportunities.

There are no easy answers to our prejudice; my views expressed here are only my ideas on using a voluntary market incentive to address this phenomenon. I don’t purport to offer a be-all-end-all solution; rather, the ideas expressed in this blog post are entirely my own and random from a moment of insanity; but you are more than welcome to take them and make them come true. It’s good for the communities, for our generation, good for those who will grow up and remember us in histories.

LEED is a voluntary sustainable building certification program aimed to give market incentives to develop sensible building and construction practices. It’s currently used primarily for office building constructions and commercial core and shell renewal. But LEED has a rather new incentive (2009) community development program that can fit a solution model for urban redesign and renewal to offer an opportunity to address the segregated problems in our schools and neighborhoods.

Indulge me:

LEED's core knowledge base is about synergies and it offers incentives to grow abandoned communities, gives consideration for core and shell redesign, building repurposing, and also to material reuse and localization.

Specifically, LEED’s Neighborhood Development credit track is designed to encourage “smart growth, urbanism and green building;” a combination of some regulatory enforcement of desegregation with voluntary redevelopment and urban renewal through LEED, in theory, will give us the synergy we need to combine social justice with market incentives.

Historically, when we simply apply enforcement mechanisms for desegregation, via regulatory schemes, we see “white flights” and push-backs from the economic side of our brains. These push-backs make no sense, but then again, a lot of our regulatory enforcements made no sense. (Abuse of police power for example, but that’s a wholly different story left for another day).

To employ LEED and the voluntary incentive programs to develop synergies with desegregation, we will need to consider several things.

First we start with some incentive and consideration to build sustainable small office buildings from the abandoned properties in our most desolate communities, where a lot of food desert happens to be; with the increase use of technology, companies can set up swap deals for their offices in isolated locations with the new, LEED certified, office buildings. When we re-sell the newly developed sustainable office-buildings at premium, we return any profits made back to the community to help upgrade other homes and the general community infrastructure. This can be done through a community savings fund and it will also provide the companies who bought these small community driven office-spaces with tax incentives. This type of office space restructuring also encourages open innovation for the industries, creating sort of mini-Silicon Valleys all across America. In light of China's upgrade and a lot of re-shoring happening, I suspect this may be a good area to grow for builders and real estate developers.

In addition, LEED also provides certification credits for having basic services nearby: grocery stores, post offices, and churches. We can then use the community funds to build up these services and help the local residents, the once segregated and deprived of their opportunity to advance economically along the privileged, to upgrade and see their house value go up according to their losses. This helps equalize home values in areas where it's lost more value in the housing crash. I think of it as a social compensation, or an entitlement, to help the once deprived to regain what is rightfully theirs. Creating these basic services will also help solve some of the pressing food desert problems, and maybe even make an impact on the preventive health care problem for the poor.

We can do the same thing, and we should, in suburban areas. There should be a tax credit incentive for suburban homeowners to voluntarily convert their own homes and their own communities to meet LEED certifications. These tax incentives are saved, in similar community funds to help build the infrastructure we need to develop more sustainable communities in the suburbs. Since most of the sustainable conversions are taking place with the homeowner’s own funds, the tax incentive community funds will only be used for building basic services. More importantly, these funds should go to build magnet school. The admission of these schools should be strictly regulated to the standards of Brown v. Board of Ed, not the newer legal standards that impedes voluntary desegregation.This will address the equal opportunity problems in our education system.

These magnet schools ought to be the primary focus of the whole initiative; they stand to create the workforce we need to meet the re-shoring demands and the new global market place demands. The student population ought to come from various distressed districts—educationally distressed school districts. This whole initiative isn’t just about building the infrastructure and making a few real estate developers rich, it’s about empowering peoples we have forgotten and amending the memories of our common human experience.

So at the end of the day, richer suburban communities would have their tax incentives to develop more sustainable communities for themselves; the poor and mostly low income places would have the funds and incentives to build sustainable buildings and upgrade their property value; the schools would be desegregated in both the low income areas as well as in suburban districts. All the while, the wealth is redistributed not to people directly, thus creating a carrying capacity problem; but is redistributed to the infrastructure and regulatory reforms, to help long term sustainable social innovations.

Of course to make these things happen, we have to be willing to open the discussion about the “white flight” and the increasingly re-segregated schools in our suburbs. We have to talk about the moral “wrongs” and discover what exactly should be the right things to do in the years to come. Development is the key and economic incentives: it is not only incentive for the few to become rich, but for the community to thrive and for everyone to enjoy equal opportunities.

In light of a lot of “re-shoring” happening these days, as doing businesses in places like China is getting more and more expensive, a lot f businesses are looking to get reintegrated into our once deprived communities. They are also looking to hire local labors and do their business in more socially responsible ways. These opportunities should not be denied to the once deprived and should not be the privileges to only the few. There is much synergy between de-segregating suburban schools and reintegrating urban communities. Everyone stands to live in better ways if we all focus on sustainable development: for people, for the planet, for economic developments.  

These are my random dreams and thoughts, I offer it to you to ponder.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Bigger . . . Not Necessarily The Better

Bigger is better.

Bigger cars, bigger houses, and yes, even bigger burgers are the best.

In high school, my friends and I would visit Wendy’s and proudly test out their newest sensation, a “triple with cheese”—what was the biggest and the baddest burger at the time—three quarter pound all beef patties along with three slices of all American cheese and all of the fixings. There was something to be said for achievements having challenged almost a pound of food and won. 

The burger would hardly fit our hands and post consumption was a blur of slowed brain activities and slushed blood flow. I swear I could feel the cholesterol going straight to my veins; and at 18 years old, my hyperactivities did not stand a chance. The behemoth of a burger would slow down my sense of time and alter my sense of reality; we would vegetate for hours on all of consumption that was enough to feed a hungry village in China.

Guilt never entered my sluggish mind at the time; years later I would regret my decisions.

These days there are even bigger burgers—pounds of beef and ham and bacon and eggs and cheese on buns; some even deep-fried to add the bit extra all Americaness. These days, we cherish the silly TV hosts who would be paid to travel the country and take on their biggest rivals and slowly killing themselves with ten pound burgers and even worst ideologies disguised as all-American patriotism.

These days, if you don’t love the biggest burgers or the biggest man eating the biggest burgers, you are not American; you can hardly pass as a patriot.

I hope somewhere, real patriotic people know that false patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel. I hope somewhere in America, they are disgusted by things such as Man vs. Food and the sins of gluttony.

A few weeks ago I heard the same principal argument made with regards to the new social media phenomenon. As journalism slowly fades into irrelevance, more and more people are jumping onto the bandwagon of social media and professing to do what journalism has done for our democratic ideologies. I too fell pray to that trend and if you are reading this now, you are equally guilty of indulging in at least some intangible rants. I don't fault you, passing judgment is only reserved for my own misgivings.

NPR’s host had compared our over-consumption of information in this information age to our glutinously experience with the industrialized food fetishes. The guest goes on to argue that as much as we should avoid the “triple-with-cheese,” we should avoid the “triple-with-cheese” of the Internet age.

I second that sentiment.

As information becomes more readily accessible, publishing made easy, and we become increasingly isolated by our ignorance of what is actually good for us, we should curb our appetites, wisely choose what is good for us, and eat a balance diet of health and slow food—a balanced diet of health and slow information. Following Kim Kardashian’s twitter account to gauge our democratic ideals may be the same thing as eating the five pound burger hoping we would cure our diabetes.

Let’s not kid ourselves.

Recently, Wizness, the online network dedicated to sustainability professionals, announced it has partnered with the Social Media Sustainability Index (SMI) to identify social media sustainability best practices and trends.

The SMI and Wizness Social Media Sustainability Index, found that the number of companies embracing social media for their sustainability initiatives had more than doubled in 2011. They predict 2012 will see more of an increase.

The goal of "The SMI and Wizness Social Media Sustainability Index" is to provide a social media roadmap for communicators throughout the sustainability and CSR community. It ranks the ways in which 100 of the world's largest companies communicate their CSR initiatives with social media, provides recommendations on managing reputation and highlights the top 10 companies on the list.
(You can read the press release here regarding to the Social Media and Sustainability initiative.)

The press release, in its cautionary approach, noted: 

[T]hat good social media communication shouldn't be judged by the number of fans on Facebook or followers on Twitter. Ultimately, successful community building and social media engagement is about attracting the right audience, not necessarily the biggest audience.
Judge as how you would yourself but as you strive for healthier eating and better lives, and as you decide you can no longer stand my ignorant rants, I urge you to become that engaged audience--follow the trend sensibly and refuse to just become the biggest audience, but the smartest.

If I see you, I see you; if I don't, I wish you luck on becoming a healthier you. 

Friday, January 20, 2012

Time Must Have a Stop

Why any quick-witted and sensitive person should feel ashamed of having said good-by . . .  he couldn't imagine. The sordid intrigues behind the scenes! The conscious or unconscious hypocrisy of every form . . . ! The asinine stupidity of that interminable repetition of the same absurd over-simplifications, the same illogical arguments and vulgar personalities, the same bad history and baseless prophecy! And that was supposed to be a man's highest duty. And if he chose instead the life of a civilized human being, he ought to be ashamed of himself.

I've always been one to dream: my grand kids calling from the far reaches of the universe and telling me of their strange encounters of the wonders of another galaxy. I know we can't get there on fossil fuel, but I've always thought the power of human ingenuity and imagination will power our spacecrafts.

Some day, at a far far away place, as time have stopped for the wonders of humanity, as we no longer fought wars, no longer killed each other for greed, for ignorance, for inhumanity; someday that we would be able to say that we have not only improved our own planet, but we are making a difference on another--that we have achieved, we have arrived. 

There's only one corner of the universe we can be certain of improving, and that's our own Earth. So we have to begin here, not outside, not on other planets. That comes afterward, when we've worked on our own corner. -- Time Must Have a Stop

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sustainable Food Summit

United Nations declared 2012 as the International Year of Cooperatives (IYC). With that incentive, the Sustainable Food Summit concluded yesterday in San Francisco. This is the first time North America is hosting the event; in the previous two years, Europe had been its home. (See Triple Pundit's more in-depth article on the Summit).

It’s an education and networking event for industry players; company representatives come together and learn about sustainability issues concerning ingredients and packaging in the food industry and their environmental and social impacts. As any industry conference, it is also a show case of sustainable packaging and labeling.

Amongst the attendees, Frontier Natural Products shared its experiences in using sustainability metrics and communication methods. Frontier Natural Products is one of the few enterprises to produce an annual sustainability report, giving key indicators for sourcing, operations, products, packaging, employees, customers and the community. The Food Co-op Initiative was also in attendance and addressed the progress in regional food co-op communities and their ability to meet the growing consumer demand for local foods.

Dr. Ulrich Hoffmann from the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) addressed the importance of a sustainable agriculture in mitigating food security risks; Worldwatch Institute showed sustainable food culture’s capability to curb carbon emissions. Eco-labels is also a huge topic: Non-GMO Project Verified is one of the many showcased.

There is also a push to reduce industrial commoditization of ingredients and promote sustainable processes for production. Things like fair-trade, tractability of ingredients, and transparency in reporting can encourage socially responsible and sustainable agricultural practices. Fair Trade USA and West Africa Trade Hub presented case studies that showed positive impacts on local communities

Animal welfare is also a hot topic at the summit. With more and more impoverished people emerging from low living standards, the demand for meat products and animal protein are on the rise. China is a prime example of this phenomenon. In China’s recent foreign investment guide, released by the government, agricultural investment is amongst the top demands. In light of the increase in demand, the Marine Stewardship Council, Safeway, and the Global Animal Partnership Program shared their insight on responsible animal protein processing, market impact of animal welfare considerations, and the growing use of plant proteins as a suitable replacement to the meet the demand.

Packaging and marketing took up a large part of the discussions. The Good Guide led the discussion on using technology to educate consumer; others prepared whitepapers on distribution methods, financing structures, consumer behaviors, and retail best-practices. According to reports, packaging is the most pressing issue and has the highest environmental impact. A keen focus at the summit was on various alternatives, such as bioplastic packaing, cradle-to-cradle designs, and adequate solutions to prevent waste through the supply chain.

My most sincere hope is for this summit to take place in Asia as well as continue in North America. It starts a pertinent conversation we must have in light of our ever increasing population. As more and more people coming out of poverty in the rest of the world, in places like China and Africa, our industry's best practices and best intentions ought to be part of the ever growing demand for healthy, sustainable, and socially responsible food production and delivery infrastructure.

Food we must love; how we relate to food defines how we shall find love for one another--and ultimately we shall find peace amongst our divides.  

Monday, January 16, 2012

The Man of Two Worlds - Ban Ki Moon Calls for Paradigm Shift in Energy Poverty.

There are approximately 2.7 billion people in the world without a clean cooking facility and 1.3 billion people without electricity. This creates a class of our fellow human beings living with indoor air quality polluted by residues from charcoal, wood chips, or animal fat and limited opportunities to compete for global labor demand to improve their lives.

The World Future Energy Summit opened today. Mr. Ban Ki Moon, a son of post war Korea, made his pleas.

Energy is central to everything we do – from powering our economies to achieving the Millennium Development Goals, from combating climate change to underpinning global security.

It is the golden thread that connects economic growth, increased social equity and preserving the environment.
Mr. Ban Ki Moon point to the two steps towards ending energy poverty: scale up successful clean energies along with energy efficient technologies and reduce emission with a keen focus on sustainable developments.

When access to energy services is combined with strategies that enhance incomes, and that strengthen public infrastructure, we can expect substantial and rapid progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals.

But, ending energy poverty is only one half of the energy equation.

Sustainable development needs sustainable energy.
Mr. Moon goes on to affirm some of the scientific findings. 

Our planet is over-heating. . . .

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, tells us, unequivocally, that greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced to half by 2050 to keep global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Centigrade since pre-industrial times.

According to the International Energy Agency, we are nearing the “point of no return”.
The United Nations established three objectives with a expected time-frame of 2030: providing modern energy access to all people around the world, double the rate of energy improvement, and double the renewable energy market share.

We are here to build a new energy future, a future that harnesses the power of technology and innovation in the service of people and the planet.

Sustainable energy for all is within our reach.
In closing, Mr. Ban Ki Moon, having warned of the connections between technology, social demand, and global security, challenges the world that has transformed itself with technology with the goal of a sustainable paradigm shift.

For those who may doubt, I say look no further than the phenomenal spread of mobile phone technology.

It has touched every corner of the world and empowered billions of people – a direct result of innovation, investment and government support.

We can create a similar paradigm with sustainable energy.
There is opportunity here for social entrepreneurs. As wealth will eventually redistribute by market forces and social demand, lifting people out of poverty means an increased consuming base capable of supporting sustainable energy and businesses. While nonrenewable sector will continue, their share of the pie will eventually decrease, so it makes no sense to build a company to grow in that sector. The incentive is to catch the sustainable energy market place early, incorporate equally the responsible social demands that will support the business model in a more and more social world, and develop a business strategy that hybrids on social engineering and free-market based decision making.  

Get a copy of the November Vision Statement from the U.N. 

Access Mr. Ban Ki Moon's speech here.

Corporate Social Responsibility Report from China.

From -- Jan 15, 2012:

On January 15, 2012, the first Chinese Entrepreneurs Crime Prevention and Control Reporting and Conference took place in Beijing. Under the guidance of Legal Daily (Chinese Government's official mouthpiece), sponsored by Legal Person Magazine and the Kyoto (Governance and Capital) law firm, the Conference also included notable scholars such as Professor Chen Guangzhong.

The Legal Daily’s chairman Jia Jingping spoke on the rule of law and market economy in China. He pointed to the 33 years of reform and gradual opening up to market economy that has created wealth, employment opportunities, and the improved quality of product and services; however, he notes, in pursuit of profits, entrepreneurs have risk the unimaginable by illegal means; many of them are now in jail.

The purpose of the Entrepreneur Crime Prevention and Control Report is to encourage an in-depth look at the issues. According to 2009 data, China’s white-collar crime rate is on the rise. In 2011, majority of the cases involved state-owned enterprise (SOE) managers. There is an interesting age correlation to note: where white-collar criminals’ age in the SOE sector averages at 53 years-old, in the private sector the average age of white-collar criminals is 46. The Report indicates the defendants are often very prominent members of the community and there is a general trend shifting from brutal, what Chinese people refer to as “Black,” methods to more frauds and complicated schemes. The Report also notes increase conviction rates and death penalty with a two year suspension have been more frequently handed down.

The Report found, since 2000, 38% of the white-collar crimes occurred in accounting (with no statistical data on SOEs); 30% are contract frauds and loan frauds; 22% come from illegal businesses, smugglings, and others; 5.2% come from tax evasion; 2.4% from registered capital crimes; and intellectual property only taking up 1%.

Surprisingly the large amount of SOE enterprises involved are unexpected and the lack of data still on some of their practice suggest further investigations and studies are necessary. The average economic loss per incident in the SOE sector is 33.8 MM Yuan (a little over $5 MM); and the most loss from criminal acts of one person is 7.9 Billion Yuan. At a time when China's economy seems to be slowing, this kind of economic loss and rampant corruption problem spells a need for change. 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Cold Cold Places on Heart Mountains.

Heart Mountain once housed incarcerated Japanese Americans during WWII. Their property was taken, freedom impeded, dignity buried beneath suspicion and fear. A museum stands on its grounds 70 years later, reminding us to learn from our prejudiced histories. You would think we are all the wiser, able to distinguish fear and suspicion from the innocent; but today, we shun from Muslims and we forbid Arabic architects from ever associating with the symbol that ought to represent peace and good will towards the Islamic world. How much have we learned from Heart Mountain?

Asking if injustice like Heart Mountain could happen again ignores the fact that Heart Mountains are all around us. No one seems to escape, all so imprisoned.

The prisoners are imprisoned by the guards, and the guards are imprisoned by their own ignorance; no one escapes the cold cold places of evil hearts. Heart Mountain is happening often and we either don’t see the bars of our prisons for what it is or else we chose to ignore its presence. In so doing we are all so ignorant.

November 2005.

It had been a busy morning; a few soldiers came to the aid-station that day for diarrhea and severe dehydration. They probably had some “Mujdat’s” dinner specials the night before; the deliciously grilled half-rotten lamb cleverly disguised by the heavy spices was wrapped in stone-oven baked bread; all so especially tempting to many young brave and foolish ones.

It was our first few months “in-country” in the Middle-east; most of us were just getting tired of eating the same old chow-hall food and wanted some local flavors. For variety, our choices were between “Kentacky Chicken” (spelled exactly as you see it) or “Mujdat’s,” the only two independent food vendors on base. There was almost a universal consensus to avoid imitation “Kentacky” fried chicken that can’t even imitate correctly, and everyone seemed curious about the Turkish culture that made Mujdat’s appealing. Someone had to help us wage against boredom and ignorance, and we gladly accepted the invitation.

My stomach had been conditioned by various gut-wrenching foods I grew up with in the Gobi desert, so Mujdat’s did not affect me as much; but for many 18 year-olds who had never been out of the comfort of their hometown U.S.A., the outcome had not been so pleasant. A few came in to the aid station that morning with explosive diarrhea and fatigue from dehydration. That morning, I had put so many IVs in collapsed veins that we had to put soldiers outside on temporarily set-up cots with rigged IV stands attached to various things we can find to keep the fluid above their heart—the only way for the cold cold saline fluid to flow.

Because of the busy morning, I was a little late to lunch. Medina, a fellow medic, and I had been walking towards the chow-hall around two in the afternoon. The sun was heavy in our eyes, the dry air seemed to have drowned all of the noises around us. There were still people just coming back from morning missions and platoons just getting ready to leave for afternoon missions. We knew the chow-hall would still be busy and all the good foods were still available. We walked slowly uphill and chatted about tomorrow.

We always looked forward to tomorrow.

I’m not sure what else we had been talking about on our way up the hill, but I do remember something broke the eerie silence. The next thing I remember was watching a FLA (Front-Line-Ambulance) fly towards us kicking up a trail of dust concealing whatever was happening behind. Sergeant Hanson pulled next to us and said in an inflated calm voice: “there had been a suicide-bomb in the chow-hall, I’ve got Captain Jacobsen in the back. Kong, you run back to the aid station and meet me to get started and be ready to receive casualties; Medina, go to the chow-hall and see if Sergeant Smith needs any help.”

There was no time to think, there wasn’t much to remember. That was the day we lost Captain Jacobsen along with sixty some others. Most are civilians and some are soldiers. It was the single most casualty we recorded in one day and I can’t help but remember seeing the eyes of Captain Jacobsen roll into the back of his head as we put the air-tube down his throat.

“He’s not going to make it.” I thought to myself.

“Dude, do you realize we were walking on people’s brain and guts that day? How fucked up is that? I mean we were trampling over body parts we barely recognize and all I kept thinking about was the stupid food on the ground and how much all of this just seemed like a big spaghetti explosion.” One of my friends would later reminiscence.

I second that sentiment.

The months after that were difficult. We had no hot meals and lived off Meal-Ready-to-Eats. No one visited Mujdat’s not because of fear of diarrhea but because no one trusted anyone who was not a solider, marine, or American civilian. It didn’t help that we were also picking up operation tempo in the city and thus receiving more casualties from IEDs. As more soldiers got hurt or died, the angrier we became; the angrier we became, the more suspicious we became.

I remember after a while that we had to have a guard for every Turkish, Philippinio, or any other alien worker on the base, even when they were cleaning our latrines we had to have armed guards for them. That meant there would be a rotating schedule for everyone to gear-up, lock and loaded, walk from latrine to latrine with the Turkish men who came to the base seeking jobs and paying for their families’ dreams back home.

I had been lucky enough to pull a shift or two. I hated having to wear full gear, Kevlar on my head, along with my aid-bag, and locked and loaded with full seven magazines of ammo attached to my body while watching the Turkish men scrub the artwork left behind in toilets.

Because I am Chinese, and had acquired a dark tan by this time, the Turkish men tried to talk to me. They offered me cigarettes, traded friendly words for me to learn; and in exchange, they vented to me of the name callings and bad intentions towards them.

“They think we don’t understand English, but we are educated.”

“I was an engineer back home. I want to send my kids to the U.S. for school but I can’t afford the tuition. I came to this base because they paid well for a translator, but the job description did not include washing toilets. I don’t mind doing that at all and I have no complaints. I just want the soldiers know I have nothing to do with the bombing. I’m not the enemy, I just want my kids to have a better future. I’m sure Americans want the same, why can’t they see that I had nothing to do with the bombing?”

I didn’t know what to say to the man. As a Chinese immigrant, I had experienced the mob ignorance before. I had been called names and I sympathize with them; at the same time, I can’t say I can trust them all that far. With all my gears and a full load of ammo, I doubt I can throw them farther than I can trust them under the circumstances.

Eventually I made friends with the Turkish workers on base. I tried to learn about their families back home and I tried to share about my family in the U.S. and China. We smoked harsh Turkish unfiltered cigarettes and we traded stories of how to grill lamb and goat on different spices. At the end of my tour in Iraq, I learned that Turkey had beautiful coastal lines on three sides of its borders; I learned to say hello and wish someone well in Arabic, and I learned to love and even miss Mujdat’s half-rotten lamb with troops of flies guarding its pre-cooked existence.

“Evil rarely comes in the form of monsters, but rather in the form of relatively normal people who, for reasons of careers, ideology, or desire for society’s approval, are indifferent to the human consequences of their actions.” – Hannah Arendt

Many of the men I served with were from small towns; many of them never left the comfort of their homogenous sunset places. Many were also washed of their history by a failing education, pressed into a new bigot military that fought a war which made no sense to them. Race no longer divides on the surface, but the sentiment of the old ideologies, of society’s evils, prevailed in their hearts. Many displaced their ignorance and bigotry with a desire to shoot, move, and communicate; many sought refuge in exploding moments.

These are the men and women whom we labeled as heroes; these are the men and women we use to separate us from “terrorists”—engineers who only wanted to better his children’s education and, ironically, experience the American Dream.

“What do you think is the American Dream?” I once asked my Turkish friends.

White houses and expensive cars; never having to have to live as servants in the cold cold places—they would say.

Only if they knew what a cold cold place America can be.

From Scottsboro to Guantanamo, the cold hearts ran evils blood to ignorant boys and girls to do unimaginable things; cold hearts ran evils blood to educated ignorant men to hand down unjust judgments; and cold hearts ran evils blood to fearful men from telling the truth as they would remember them.

The cold cold hearts that ran evils blood and the cold cold hearts find comfort in relatively normal people who, for reasons of careers, ideology, or desire for approval, live in indifference to the human consequences of their actions.

The cold cold hearts ran evils bloods and we hold our breath and pray for justice to prevail. Slowly we began to warm our hearts.

Today, African Americans are awarded the Medal of Honor, elected President, and recognized for their achievements across the spectrum. Yesterday, they were thought inferior, rapists, and incapable of participating in the political process. All through the struggle, justice and the rule of law stand on their side or in their way. Justice, and persistence, it seems, goes hand in hand.

The United States Supreme Court, in 1927, struck down a law that prohibited blacks from participating in the Texas Democratic primary election. Nixon v. Condon was a voting rights case that contested Texas law passed in 1923 asserting that in “no event shall a negro be eligible to participate in a Democratic Party election.” Dr. L. A. Nixon, a black El Paso physician, argued that the 1923 statute was an infringement of his Fourteenth Amendment rights as established in Nixon v. Herndon (1927). Nixon v. Herndon held any state law creating a white primary election was unconstitutional.

In response, the Texas legislature delegated the matter to the party’s executive committee and avoided justice. The Supreme Court supported Nixon in a five-to-four decision and argued that the Democratic Party’s executive committee was, in fact, operating as a state agent and thus within the scope of the 14th Amendment.

The Democratic Party, however, responded by barring blacks from participation in the party nominations, thus effectively continuing the white only primaries.

In 1934, R. R. Grovey, an African-American, again attempted to challenge the institution in the Texas Democratic primary election. He sought to enter the nomination process and was denied a ballot by the county clerk on account of the whites-only restriction. Grovey sued, arguing the restriction violated his rights under the Fifteenth Amendment and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

Justice in Texas denied his claim.

The United States Supreme Court, in a unanimous opinion authored by Justice Owen Roberts, concluded that the party's restriction had not been authorized or endorsed by the state and therefore was free from the limitations of the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments.

Go ahead and be a racist.

Contrasting Nixon v. Condon, Justice Roberts noted that the party's rule in Grovey's case could not be limited by the amendments. He writes: "the Democratic party in that state is a voluntary political association and, by its representatives assembled in convention, has the power to determine who shall be eligible for membership and, as such, eligible to participate in the party's primaries."

In 1943, Smith v. Allwright, Thurgood Marshall stood in front of the United States Supreme Court to argue Texas’s Democratic primary system again of prohibiting Blacks from voting in primary elections and thus violated the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. The Supreme Court held this time that the Democratic Party did in fact violate the constitution.

The Court wrote “[the] grant to the people of the opportunity for choice is not to be nullified by a state through casting its electoral process in a form which permits a private organization to practice racial discrimination in the election.” In so ruling, the Court overruled its nine year old decision in Grovey v. Townsend.

Smith signaled the beginning of the Second Reconstruction and the modern civil rights movement. Marshall considered this case his most important case; and the case settles as “so clear and free of ambiguity” that the right of Blacks to participate in primaries was established “once and for all.”

The naivety of the ideal would’ve believed battles won and cold cold places now basking in the warm sun. What else could be more inspiring than the highest justice of the land declaring injustices done? But history tells us a battle won is only a victory in the right direction. The war is never over until no more cold cold places exist in man’s hearts.

In 1946, Irene Morgan, a black woman, boarded a bus in Virginia to go to Baltimore—the home of many more boys and girls who had signed up to die for prejudice. She was ordered to sit in the back of the bus as required by Virginia state law. She objected, arguing that since the bus was an interstate bus, federal laws govern and state laws did not apply. Thurgood Marshall again took on the case. The United States Supreme Court held that since it was illegal for a state to forbid segregation, it was likewise illegal for a state to require it.

We all know buses were still segregated much after the infamous Rosa Parks incident. Today, although buses are no longer segregated, still we find only the poor, the under-represented, and the economically repressed on these buses. While the rich enjoys the luxuries of higher incomes, better private transportations, leveraging the environmental impacts on the underprivileged, we ask, have we really begotten the underlying cold cold hearts that begets segregation?

In 1944, the Supreme Court upheld the order excluding persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast war zone during World War II. Heart Mountain delivered the cold cold hearts of justice observing legal restrictions on the rights of a single racial group claiming that “hardships are part of war . . . . Compulsory exclusion of large groups of citizens from their homes . . . when under conditions of modern warfare [where] our shores are threatened by hostile forces, the power to protect must be commensurate with the threatened danger.”

In 2005, my field commander justified the suspicions for every non-American on FOB Merez under the conditions of modern warfare where our men and women are threatened by hostile forces and even colder hearts who are willing to sacrifice the innocent to make a pointless point.

While Korematsu suggested that basic civil rights could give way to prejudice and hysteria, we seem to register such hysteria in complete coherent cold hearts and minds without hesitation. It took four years for Congress to enact the Japanese American Evacuation Claims Act of 1948 to provide some monetary compensation to Japanese American citizens who had lost their homes or businesses during the internment; and it took almost 40 years for Korematsu to persuade a federal judge in San Francisco to set aside his conviction for violating the wartime order. I wonder how long will it take for my fellow service members, boys and girls who had volunteered for a senseless war and killed senselessly the warmth of the Mesopotamian sun, to register the ignorance and separation from the pointless death of 63 men and women who simply wanted to have lunch in a place they never intended to call home, but only wanted to live in better ways and give their children a brighter future.

The Heart Mountain remembers, the cold cold times with cold cold hearts. I remember the cold cold places of an American dream ironically confronting cold cold suicide bombers laying waste to the warmth of that unforgettable Mesopotamian winter. The Heart Mountain never ceased to plague our hearts and we still face a struggle against the evils of our ideologies, conditions, careers, and desire for approval from the social norms that we know are unjust.

I’ve long lost touch with my Turkish friends, but I long to see the beautiful coastal lines that once dominated our conversations. In those places I hope to find the warm warm hearts of a people no more different than I—looking for their Hearts Mountains in cold cold places.

Heart Mountain is happening often and at times when we have no choice but to ignore its presence and live the best we could to survive and morn. Bad things seem to lead to more bad things; but bad things inspire good people to do good things. The perpetual struggle continues and only time can tell if we have given the warmth of our hearts to the world we live—a cold cold place.

I have a dream that one day we would live in a warm place where we can call home. 

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Supply Chain Sustainability and China's Choices.

I was born in the Gobi in GanSu Province. There is a place not far from where I lived called JaYuGuan. It’s the far west end of the Great Wall and also known as the first gate to the west on the Silk Road. At its prime, it’s the gate where all the traders passed between the east and west.

When I was young, my grandpa would tell an amazing story of its construction. The builder requested an exact amount of bricks for the building of the gate and its castles. The emperor questioned the builder’s confidence and asked if there should be a slight excess in supply to plan for contingencies. The builder refused; but to save the emperor’s face, the builder requested one extra brick for the emperor’s “contingencies.”

Sure enough, at the end of the construction, the builder had used the exact amount of supply he had requested. He proudly displayed that one extra brick on top of the gate.

“To this date, you can still see the one brick sitting idle.” My grandfather would say. My grandfather passed away many years ago, but his pride lives on.

These days, building and construction in China is no such exact science. Builders bribe officials for the job, order cheap supplies and build buildings that crumble and fall in the slightest of shakes; and waste is as common as the sandstorms. These days, builders do not pride themselves on accuracy and efficiency, but on profit not recorded but spent on luxuries for themselves.

The pride of China in these things has been washed away in scandals and corruptions, in pollution and excess.

But China is trying to upgrade itself. China is trying to reclaim its once glorious past in the present. I soon hope to walk pass the first gate again and look upon the mighty structure and hope to say that we have made positive progress.

Many Chinese, I suspect, shares my sentiment. We are a proud people with a proud history.

I’ve been doing some baseline research lately on China’s new Circular Economy Laws. It’s ambitious, aimed to reduce cost and environmental impact starting from the sources of the raw material, supplies and consumables and ending with eventual return, recycling or disposal of products. The Germans and the Japanese have also boasted their versions of a recycling economy laws, but non are so proactive and ambitious as the Chinese; at least not on paper.

All high hopes aside, I know the enforcement of China’s ambitious laws is yet to be seen. In practice, we shall see if China can once again place its pride on display; or will China take the excess and squander it in dark secrets.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The Existential Crisis of Social Entrepreneurs and Social Intrapreneurship.

I called myself a social entrepreneur--it’s a cool title for an unemployed, hyperactive attention deficit, and idealistic student. I consider myself privileged to have the opportunity to attend law school on my GI Bill and have the opportunity to try and become a socially responsible capitalist. I promised that I would not give up until I have achieved.

Two years later, I realized becoming a social entrepreneur is a difficult thing. I have no capital, no real technical skills, no team of college buddies with mad skillz to hang with, drink beer all night, and work out a smashing new technology. Instead, I have post-war illusions about reality, close friends scattered across the globe. I have developed a terribly shy personality but also adopted an uncommonly extroverted drive to achieve; along with it I have a deathly fear that I may never make it in the real world.

Philosophically, I pondered my chances of becoming the next Bill Gates or Steve Jobs; my existential chances are slim. Pragmatically, I devoted large part of my time getting good grades, learning how to write well, learning the laws and hoping to make sense of my messy life that started in the Gobi, to Beijing, to Cincinnati, to San Antonio, to Seattle, to Mosul, and finally coming to Indiana; with many cities in between. I desperately try to reconcile my identity as a Chinese America, or an American Chinese; I am hopelessly lost as a globalist, a environmentalist, a humanist.

I wondered if I am doomed. If I can’t make it as a social entrepreneur, am I bound to the irresponsible corporate machines that I so desperately wanted to avoid? Is creating my own capitalist opportunities the only way?

I once had a friend who said “be like the water, find your way.”

So I did.

I accepted a summer job with a big law firm. "Sell-out," I can already hear it now.

What drew me to the opportunity was the firm's willingness to accept my passion and their interest in my work so far. I felt this may be an opportunity to continue my work; being married now I also felt a sense of relief—at least I can take care of my family with an acceptable income when needed.

So is it the end of my social entrepreneur dreams? Can I leave my grand hopes of changing the world in the hands of the reputation of a profession deemed just below selling used cars?

Last night I had a dream; I dreamt that I was back in Mosul, side by side again with the infantry and empty of ammo. I shouted for more and no one answered. I shouted louder and a line appeared before me leading me down to the city. I knew what I had to do: the help I need is down below, in the city—in the thick of things. If I can’t fight the battle from above, without ammo, I must fight the battle down below with my hands if necessary.

I woke this morning and fate pointed me to a new word. I love new vocabulary, especially one that Microsoft does not recognize: social intrapreneurship. I chewed on it a bit and looked up some articles about the term. It seems there is hope after all.

My father once told me that it matters not what one does for a living so long as one devotes fully and passionately. He spent his entire life chasing a cure for cancer in DNA research. At his old age, he is proud of his sons and regrets nothing. I hope I can say the same.
Social Intrapreneurship is the action of a social intrapreneur. A social intrapreneur is someone who works to develop and promote practical solutions to social or environmental challenges and acts as a social entrepreneur inside a major organization. - Wiki.

I have spent the last three years of my life learning as much about sustainability. I have developed a skill set that incorporates process improvement, sustainable building principles, and I have roughly defined some of my legal and philosophical ideals. My wife tells me that working for a law firm that also focuses on some of the core values I believe may help me establish more experiences and contacts to make my eventual dream of social entrepreneurship possible.

All in due time, she says.

Patience is a virtue and life is a mystery. We shall see what tomorrow brings. In the mean time, The Green Elephant will continue. Rethink(i3) will also live and perhaps in a different form. I am considering restructuring it into a content creation entity. Regardless, I shall do as I have always done--give my best and live another day to fight another good fight for social change.
There is more than one way to change the world; many methods and many paths--choose well.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Living In Better Ways

GOP candidates dominate the airwave these days. While I am bemused by the political process for its mudslinging that entertains more so than it progresses, I can't help but notice some real work are actually being done on the Hill. While we gripe and complain about Congressional inaction and watch closely who will be the next commander-in-chief of the herd of cats on the Hill, we soon forget that often the media are driven by the bad, the ugly, the insane. It’s time like this we take note of potential bipartisan progress that is meant for the good of the nation—we take note of progress, hopefully, being made by the elected officials. I consider this my duty as a ranting fool and a pontificating blogger, to help you see the other side of media power that helps build progress, rather than draw drama for ratings.

I draw your attention to the politicians away from the spotlight who recently reintroduced the bipartisan Healthy Food Financing Initiative to help expand access to healthful, fresh foods in underserved communities.

The bill, introduced by Reps. Michael C. Burgess, R-Texas, and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and by U.S. Sens. Robert Casey Jr., D-Pa. and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., takes a market-based approach to address these challenges by providing flexible loan and grant financing to local grocery operators.

Reps. Allyson Schwartz & Bob Brady.

Representatives Schwartz and Brady note that American children today are living shorter, less healthy lives than their parents—a seemingly contradiction to our proud developed nation status. A regression in standard of living and health expectancy marks our lowered expectations as the world’s super power.

In light of these facts, we must ask the tough question of where we stand in the whole scheme of things in terms of positive progress. After all, we expect such reversion of health standards in places where wars torn its lands and corruption pillage its people. We do not expect this sort of retardation here in the U.S. But that is exactly what is happening. In the past 30 years, our childhood obesity rate has tripled and obesity rate amongst adults is no more encouraging. By 2030, we can expect half of all adults in the U.S. to be obese. The obesity epidemic is the primary cause of chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer. All of these health related problems have a major impact on our economy: we currently spend 10% of health-care costs on preventable, obesity-related illnesses, and some projections indicate that that figure could double. Yet, as Dr. Campbell notes in his book, The China Study, no one seem to be addressing prevention.

Some politicians would like to displace the burden on parents. It is assumed that parents have a primary responsibility to shape their children’s healthy eating habits, but Representatives Schwartz and Brady notes that it is not as simple as going to the local grocery store and making their kids eat healthy food.

Parents often have limited access to healthy food to start. According to reports, 24 million Americans live in food deserts—urban areas lacking access to a supermarket within one mile, or rural areas lacking similar access within 10 miles. These parents have no convenient and affordable way to buy healthy food. They either have to spend hours traveling for their children’s wellbeing or are forced to feed their children significantly less nutritious options.

Schwartz and Brady argue that to fight the obesity epidemic in this country, the political wills of elected officials should start with the most basic solution: access to healthy foods. They argue that increasing access to grocery stores in underserved communities will not only address the growing health problem but will also help stimulate local economic developments. They note that often high start-up costs and limited access to capital prevent local grocery operators from opening new outlets in the food deserts. With the recent interest in slow food, they note that many such operators have opened in these underserved communities have been commercially successful; but urban operators face “increased real-estate costs or limited availability of commercial real estate, increased employee training needs and costs, elevated security expenses and, often, zoning restrictions. Grocery stores in rural food deserts face increased food-delivery costs due to distance from distributors, dispersed customer base and low volume.”

To address this growing health and economic problem, Schwartz and Brady, along with their colleagues, reintroduced the bill aimed at creating a national initiative based on the successful Pennsylvania Fresh Food Financing Initiative, “which has supported 88 new or improved fresh-food retail outlets since 2004 and leveraged a $30 million state grant to generate $192 million in grocery stores and other projects.”

Pennsylvania's initiative has created or retained more than 5,000 jobs and increased access to healthful food for more than 400,000 residents across the commonwealth. In 2006, a single 57,000-square-foot store in Philadelphia created 370 jobs for residents and generated $540,910 of local tax revenue in one year.

Their proposed public-private partnership arguably could boost economic growth by creating and retaining local jobs, revitalize local communities, renovate neighborhood retailers, and generating local tax revenues. By their estimate, a 50,000-square-foot supermarket creates 250 full-time jobs, associated construction work and expanded opportunities for American farmers. Similar public-private partnerships have been launched in California, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and New Orleans in Louisiana.

Aside from the food deserts, there is also a pervasive fast food problem here in the U.S. This is also spreading to other parts of the world and causing obesity in places that have not known obesity. When I left China in 1992, there are only a few fast food places and no visible obese children. It is a different story these days. It is one thing to bring access to health food to children, it's another to work with the existing infrastructure to create more healthy food options. I know many food advocates would sooner like to be rid of places like Burger King and KFC, but I would like to think these chains, with a already in place infrastructure to deliver, could be leveraged to bring healthy options to otherwise unavailable places too costly for grocer operators. Imagine the next time you pull up to McDonald's and instead of being asked "would you like to try our triple cheese with bacon," you are asked "would you like to try our new healthy options?

Of course that means the cost of operating healthy options for these chains must be adequate. That means motivating these fast food joints to cooperate with healthy food suppliers locally. Redistribute their supply chain away from CAFOs to more locally grown places. All of these require a new sense of corporate social responsibility from the CEOs of these food giants.

Food is a necessity, a love for all of us. It is time we take notice of its importance in our personal lives, in our economy, and in our future generations. It's is also time that we take notice of being cooperative rather than bash into each other in a game of chicken. There is a way for all of us to prosper in reshaping our eating habits and developing new models to spread to other countries. If we are to reclaim our status as the world's super power, we don't need new weapons or new engines, we need new ways of living in better ways.    

Monday, January 9, 2012

A year in reflection and the things we look forward to in 2012 - a belated new year's wish.

On those stepping into rivers staying the same other and other waters flow. – Heraclitus. 

“滴水穿石” – Old Chinese idiom: dripping water wears away stone.

If you were to ask a Taoist, change is like water: natural, harmonious, steadfast, and imperceptible at times; if you were to ask a Buddhist, change is from within, constant and incontrovertible part of the soul; but change is not without a sensationalized external presence. The Chinese have an old saying that tells of rain drops defeating the mighty stone after a thousand years—where the stone once laid now reminisce the eroded glories beaten by the smallest drops of persistence—Change is a powerful thing.

Change, however, is much of an illusion as well. It inspires empty slogans—marketing madness without a conscience—and often it causes change for the worse, for profit; not better, nowhere near positive progress. The illusion of this change reflects our collective conscience, so vaguely and constitutionally defined and always facing a different new and irrelevant world, often yield to the powerful lobbyists and irresponsible market forces; thus we shape our black letter laws that stands in some weird shade of gray reflecting our confusion about positive social change.

At the wake of multiples of economic, environmental, and social meltdowns worldwide, there is a renewed interest in social change and building responsible social infrastructures for sustainable growth; but we continue to discover that even the cliché of change itself is at risk of becoming meaningless and purely profit driven—rudely unphilosophical and pragmatically misguided. In this landscape, we find ourselves looking for changes but finding emptiness and no exit; we find nothing more than the mere form of change, not the substance. The difference between real social change and empty market slogans, between substance and form, thus becomes an important question we must answer; as we come to see, their differences are slight, a thin line divides change for progress and change for the sake of perpetuating the original sins.

I often hear that changes must occur in orderly fashion, through laws and in the context of a rule of law society. I’ve also come to see that rule of law is often an empty idiom, full of discrete malformations of control and undue influence. This results in a form of rule by law, one which the autocrats employ to control the masses and convince them of their happiness.

We must remember that laws rarely shape reality; often it is the reality that makes the laws and the ignorant are rule by these laws. These laws goes unchallenged, faces no threat of intelligence. Often we find ourselves happy with these laws, because they do not affect the masses, only the few less privileged, hidden from the views of the public and media. However much we like to believe our civil society depends on passing these laws, we can’t regulate ourselves into a civil society and rule of law alone does not make a nation’s ideals. To do so we become autocrats, we are ruled by law, worse we become mindless drones—rage against the machines in silence. Someone is bound to be disappointed by the collective wisdom; someone is bound to manipulate the collective wisdom for their selfish benefits. Our civil society, it seems, is more depended on the people’s own actions than what we can muster collectively and pontificate ourselves in black letter laws into buffoonery. Our civil society is depended on our conscience.

No one but Time is the judge of progress in the changes we adopt; no one but Time is the judge of our conscience. This also makes social change dangerously insinuate nothing; the only escape from nothingness, from no exit, is to measure what one is willing to give in exchange for making the change and making that progress.

In reflection of this past year at The Green Elephant (dot) US, I see the changes I have made to the contents of this blog. I began with an obsession with food and my past indulgences with a fatherland so far from me. Now, this blog has transformed into somewhat more inclusive of the topic of sustainability; yet I am afraid that the contents are still very limited to my own personal views reflecting a still infant maturation process. In the wake of this admission, I acknowledge my weakness and incomplete knowledge of things. I leave you with the thought of my imperfections and I hope in the coming years I will face the things of which I know little yet significantly relevant to my own growth. I hope to be able to better distinguish the substance and form of change and of sustainability.

Thank you for participating in my writing experiments in the past year, and I look forward to an more progressive 2012. Happy Belated New Year!