Monday, February 27, 2012

The Human Ecology - a Process of "Becoming" an Improved Human Experience (Updated)

There are palpable similarities between eastern philosophical thoughts of “becoming,” its consequential influences in Buddhist philosophies of suffering, and what Dr. Martin Luther King had recognized as the steps of progressive social change.

In Dr. King’s Letters From Birmingham Jail, he starts his defense of his civil disobedience by noting social change as a process: first one must define where injustice exists, then negotiate reform, allow for self-purification and finally, when one exhausts the steps, direct action should take precedence (define, measure, analyze, and control).

Six Sigma—a mathematically driven industrial process improvement method—also advocates for similar sequence of steps: to improve any industrial process, one must first know where the problems lie from all relevant stakeholders; the stakeholders themselves, with the process change agent acting as a facilitator, must then negotiate the process’ current status with a desired outcome; following the negotiated proposals, stakeholders must understand the steps necessary to implement the negotiated changes from what is internally possible (bar external influences—since external influences are considered most relevant to the control step—addressing external forces is more significant to a process improvement during control, or verification, since those external forces will dictate hypothesis in the reality of the situation); and finally, one must control the proposed process change—testing the process improvement hypothesis limiting errors to few mechanical applications of the process improvement method so continued improvement is possible.

We see the same steps Dr. King had described, and Six Sigma tried to mechanize, in Buddhism. Buddhism is generally accepted to have four fundamental truths; (often the philosophical undertone is lost to a western reader by the use of “suffering”—Buddhism is not about suffering per se, but about the overcome of suffering to attain enlightenment. The art of Becoming.). 

The four noble truths in Buddhism are:

1. Life means suffering. (Define)

Here, the Buddha teaches us that the predicate of living is suffering because the human nature is not perfect and neither is the world we live in.

Recognize that imperfection, a priori to a Buddhist, means we inevitably have to endure physical suffering such as pain, sickness, injury, tiredness, old age, and eventually death; and we have to endure psychological suffering like sadness, fear, frustration, disappointment, and depression.

Life, to a Buddhist, in its totality is imperfect and incomplete, because our world is subject to impermanence. This is the definition of our problem in achieving enlightenment—recognizing that we are imperfect, that all things are impermanent, that we are powerless to change the external forces that shape the “reality” of our situation, we must then understand it to the best of our abilities—in essence we must understand not only our minds, but our souls, in search of our imperfect being in a world of becoming perfection—thus we shape external forces internally.

2. The origin of suffering is attachment. (Measure)

Because we are attached to transient things in life, we cause our own sufferings; we cause our own imperfections and our own social ills.

Transient things do not only include the physical objects that surround us, but also ideas—ideas like the “old way of life” (or the “southern way of life" confronted by Dr. King and the Civil Rights movement).

According to the Buddhist teaching, our ignorance comes from our lack of understanding of how our mind is attached to impermanent things. This ignorance is not just on one side or the other of the political divides, or one the one or the other side of our moral divides for that matter.

For the Buddha, this ignorance is what keeps us from investigating into the systemic problems of things as they appear; we rely on our suffering to prompt desire, passion, and motivation to strive for better things according to our imperfect being.

This sort of change, accordingly, is imperfect still; it causes further suffering because we are still craving and clinging to some kind of status quo. Because the objects of our attachment are transient, and our passion and desires forever measured against more passion and desires, our failure is inevitable, thus suffering will necessarily continue.

To better understand this particular truth of Buddhism, one must also recognize that our passions and desires, as measured against further passions and desires, even of the better of changes as we see them today, still are objects of attachment within the idea of a "self" which is a delusion. Because there is no abiding self, what we call "self" is just an imagined entity, and we are merely a part of the ceaseless becoming of the universe.

3. The cessation of suffering is attainable. (Analyze)

In conducting an analysis of our problems of the “self” and our ignorance, the Buddha recognized that the cessation of suffering could be attained through nirodha—the unmaking of sensual craving and conceptual attachment.

Here, the expressed idea is that suffering can end with dispassion; by extinguishing all forms of clinging and attachment we discover that suffering can be overcome through human activity, through collective dispassionate activities, simply by removing the cause of suffering.

This forces the act of our analysis into the systemic problems of our collective human experience. Through this act of analysis into the systemic challenges of our passion, we find and perfect dispassion on many levels in how we relate to others. This ultimately leads us to the state of Nirvana—freedom from all worries, troubles, complexes, fabrications and ideas as we encounter in our interactions with others.

But Nirvana is not comprehensible for those who have not recognized the systemic, the root, of our ignorance and suffering.

Here we recognize external forces are constantly dividing us internally, causing us to pull our passions and desires one way or another. This is where our crafted Six Sigma technicians have recognized the imbalance of external considerations have attributed to a lack of process improvement in the industrial place. Here, we also note that Dr. King struggled with his critics while in jail, where he coined this stage of the process as "self-purification."

4. The path to the cessation of suffering. (Control)

According to Buddhism, there is a path to the end of suffering. This is the controlled step of one’s enlightenment—a gradual path of self-improvement confronted by external forces. These, in particular to Buddhism, are described more detailed in the Eightfold Path.

Here, we find ourselves confronted with the supposedly middle way; some would call it the compromise.

We do this inadvertently, on a daily basis, to ensure our political system is functioning, our judicial system is just, and our human experience worth memorializing. We essentially compromise ourselves into injustice.

The control step, then, is a delicate tight-rope walking between the two extremes of excessive self-indulgence of ignorance (hedonism) and excessive self-mortification (asceticism) leads to the end of the cycle of rebirth—leads to better societies embedded with positive social changes.

Yet if we dwell on the artificial, political, moral, ethical, or whatever else human creation divides, we risk being stuck on inaction; our controlled steps non-functioning. This, Dr King recognizes, as the duality between the forces of “complacency and insensitivity” on the one end and “bitterness and hatred” on the other.

For “[i]f I [Dr. King] sought to answer all criticisms [addressing to those ends] . . . I would have no time for constructive work.”

Here, we note in Buddhism, in Six Sigma process improvements, and in the Civil Rights movements, the asceticism quality discerns the act of change from other paths which are merely "wandering on the wheel of becoming” with no final objective; the other extreme leads us to the path of inaction and continuing suffering oblivious to its effect on ourselves. Even Gandhi thought non-violence meant not inaction, but action with self-imposed non-violence.

Where does this leave us and our sustainability movement? What is the lesson we can draw from these seemingly random correlations between process thinking, noble truths of a religion, and social change?

Eastern cultures, I come to observe, are largely influenced by a Confucian aesthetic order as opposed to the western civilizations so influenced by the rational ordering. This aesthetic order effectuates a process in which personal cultivation in social hierarchy inspires emulation—father inspires son, mother inspire daughter. In this process, the participants become the sociopolitical order based on the emergent harmony from their voluntary participation.

One important similarity between the aesthetic ontology and Alfred N. Whitehead’s thoughts on the priority of process, or becoming over substance or being is, while Classical western metaphysics are concerned with substance of things, its assumed axioms in the likes of “identity” (a=a) of things, the process metaphysics (the philosophy of organisms) maintains that the final real things of the universe are actual occasions or entities, which are a unit of process (or process of becoming) rather than substances (being) in the traditional sense.

In this process metaphysics of becoming, the facts of identity (assumed a fundamental axiom of analytic and mathematics) are not the focus. (In formal logic, and mathematics, one encounter a basic, fundamental, assumption of identity “a=a”; I’ve always thought this particular thought troubling. Intuition tells me that nothing is identical to itself and change is always happening. In quantum physics, we know our subatomic compositions are never the same from one moment to the next. Intuitively, to me, the axiom a bi-conditional relational statement “a if and only if (iff) a” makes more sense). In the process metaphysics, the ontology focuses on a relational focus: not a concern to describe how things are in themselves, but how they stand in relation to something else at particular times—in effect: how things can change.

At focus, between process and being, we note some distinct issues of human rights. With respect to human rights and in light of a different metaphysics of the eastern ontology, both Douglas Strum* and George Pickering* have set forth relational or process perspectives on property rights. Strum replaces the individualistic ontology of “classical western liberalism” with a process-based “communitarian political ontology.” Their insight, focusing on a more relational and ecological, even organic character of metaphysical inquiries, coupled with a Communitarian perspective seem to drive at the heart of how countries like China can address its human rights violations as well as how the west views China’s human rights issues.

Strum argues that a “jurisprudence of solidarity,” as opposed to jurisprudence of individuality, where the “driving passion of law is not so much to protect the individual against trespass as it is to create quality of social interaction conducive to the flourishing of a vibrant community of life across the world.” The consequence, Strum argues, is that “human rights are of greatest importance as a form of empowerment, enabling people, as individuals and in their association, to participate effectively and through political community.” On that notion of empowerment, I find that sustainable industrial developments, which encompass human rights as well as environmental sciences, can merge with China’s need to lift its improvised people out of poverty all the while continue to improve substantial human rights and environmental protections.

Sir Ken Robinson said in a famous presentation that the “human ecology, one in which we start to reconstitute our conception of the richness of human capacity,” is only productive “by seeing our creative capacities for the richness they are, and seeing our children for the hope that they are. And our task is to educate [the children’s] whole being, so they can face this future . . . [our future] — [one] we may not see . . ., but they will. And our job is to help [] make something of it.”

A law professor recently professed that it’s not just about our children or our children’s children; the human ecology is urgently in need of something that we can do to teach ourselves now, at this moment, so we can create a better condition to foster this human ecology for the eternal moment, for the children then.

But we must act now; yet how we act is also mightily important to the movement—to any movement.

"What TED celebrates is the gift of the human imagination. We have to be careful now that we use this gift wisely, and that we avert some of the scenarios that we’ve talked about. And the only way we’ll do it is by seeing our creative capacities for the richness they are, and seeing our children for the hope that they are. And our task is to educate their whole being, so they can face this future. . . ." - Sir Ken Robinson

For references, see:                                                                  



*George W. Pickering, Property Rights: Another Relational Perspective, in ECONOMIC LIFE: PROCESS INTERPRETATIONS AND CRITICAL RESPONSES (W. Widick Schroeder & Franklin I Gamwell eds., 1988);


See also: What Virtues and Formalities Can Do For Corporate Social Responsibility and the Chinese Rule of Law? 仁 礼 誠 人 | 人 必 治 法 | 法 修 其 德 | 德 必 治 國 - by Jin Kong

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Breaking Down the Institutional Silos

- by Lauren Campbell 

In a 1971 American Institute of Biological Sciences article, "The Biologist, the Psychologist, and the Environmental Crisis," (1971)* written by Robert Franke, discussed in detail the need for an interdisciplinary approach to cure our environmental crisis. Franke, a former biology/botany professor at Iowa State University, urged biologists and psychologists to work together to address the increasing environmental problems we face. He repeatedly turned to Erich Fromm’s humanist psychology to help facilitate the process.

Fromm had articulated that human discontentment was the cause of our “earth’s deterioration.”

Franke claimed that “biologists have described well the ecological crisis, but they do not have the disciplinary resources to examine the human causes of our dilemma.” He cited Fromm’s 1955 work:

“As a psychologist, he, [Fromm], worries that the ‘good life’ deprives modern man of his central place, uses him to attain economic goal, estranges him from his fellow men and nature. Man-made environment may have become an end in itself, out of kilter with nature. Thus, the irony is that man-made environment may now threaten humanity”

Franke listed some factors that could negatively affect society and their environment: monetary profit, technological change, mass production, mass consumption, and development of business management are just some factors Franke had enumerated. These, Franke argues, have caused man to become detached from the Earth and thus affected his perception and relationship of caring for it. (It should be noted that Franke noted “man” and “his perceptions” in his article.) He discussed the necessity of biologists “to inquire into the nature of adequate fulfillment of man’s psychological needs”; recognizing that in order to address the environmental problems, man’s psychological needs must be met, or else the exploitation of our planet will continue.

Franke goes on to claim that man must develop a strategy for dealing with these problems: “he must develop an intellectual strategy.” He noted that one can “either attack only the well-recognized symptoms of an endangered relationship between man and the natural environment, or while preventing more despoliation, [one] can rally to change detrimental societal forces through attention to man’s psychological needs”

Franke’s view was radical for his time. His use of humanistic psychology to address environmental degradation was not a popular notion. Behaviorism still reigned, the study of psychology and social psychology’s popularity was still on the rise. Franke’s article was at odds because at the time, intrinsic motivation and social motivation in were in a different form than Franke’s concepts. Psychologists at the time were especially interested in learning how social roles and experiences facilitated motivation. There was a real emphasis on how social roles influence environmental behavior; there were a lot of behavioral models put forth; it was also at this time that many environmental psychologists thought that providing information regarding environmental problems would be enough to motivate individuals to behave pro-environmentally.

It should be noted how humanistic psychology reverberated through the sciences and the impact it has had, not only in psychology, but in other areas of science. Franke’s article specifically emphasized humanistic psychology’s impact on our understanding of social responsibility to address our environmental issues.

Franke’s article may help biologists recognize the need to address psychological issues in their research and incorporate environmental motivation studies to contribute to an overall goal of changing our sustainable behaviors.

The environment is our shared environment. We must take care of it in order for the species to survive. This means working across fields, with other disciplines, with different beliefs, to sustain the global demand of human life. Motivating individuals to behave in sustainable ways can benefit everyone; it is crucial to our survival and is an important component of social psychology. Throughout the years, several theories and models have been put forth regarding human motivation; however, there has not been a significant change to our behavior to counteract the pollution that we have created. I would think it's time we take Franke's advice and break down the institutional silos. Survival would be the ultimate motivator for any organism on this planet, even us.

*The Biologist, the Psychologist, and the Environmental Crisis BioScience Vol 21, No. 5.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Human Ecology - A Timeless Lesson from the Creative Minds of TED

I have watched the TED video (below) many times since 2006. Each time, I am reminded of the power of human imagination and I am inspired by Sir Robinson's positivism for humanity. More and more, I am beginning to believe that our sustainable transitions, from the past industrial and invasive human experience to a new sustainable and cooperative global one, is impossible without what Sir Robinson calls the Human Ecology.

[O]ur only hope for the future is to adopt a new conception of human ecology, one in which we start to reconstitute our conception of the richness of human capacity. Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we strip-mine the earth, for a particular commodity, and for the future, it won’t serve us.

We have to rethink the fundamental principles on which we’re educating our children. There was a wonderful quote by Jonas Salk, who said, “If all the insects were to disappear from the earth, within 50 years all life on earth would end. If all human beings disappeared from the earth, within 50 years all forms of life would flourish.” And he’s right.

. . . We have to be careful now that we use this gift wisely, and that we avert some of the scenarios that we’ve talked about. And the only way we’ll do it is by seeing our creative capacities for the richness they are, and seeing our children for the hope that they are. And our task is to educate their whole being, so they can face this future — by the way, we may not see this future, but they will. And our job is to help them make something of it.
Sir Ken Robinson, 2006.

UNICEF in Urgent Need of $64 Million for Sahel's Children

Food is sacred. No one, especially children, should die from hunger or be diseased by malnutrition.

Food is the basis of all sustainability efforts. Without food, people cannot stand to voice change; the world stands to fall.

According to Voice of American, the United Nations Children's Fund yesterday warned an estimated one million young children in eight countries in the Sahel is at risk and suffers from “severe acute malnutrition . . . are at risk of death or permanent disability.”

UNICEF urgently needs $67 million to provide food for these vulnerable children.

The United Nations warned drought and food shortages are threatening the lives and well-being of up to 23 million people in the Sahel region of West Africa.

“Malnutrition contributes to around 35 percent of under-five child deaths around the world. The risk, obviously, is that with this crisis its impact will become much more severe and many more children risk dying or getting sick. That is just malnutrition, compounded with disease, is very potentially lethal for children,”
Spokeswoman for the U.N. Children’s Fund, Marixie Mercado

According to UNICEF, there still is time to help. Although UNICEF needs $120 million for a long term sustainable action plan for the region, (and approximately$1.28 billion to respond to meet the world's needs), it has received $9 million for its humanitarian operations in the Sahel this year. It is in urgent need of an additional $67 million to purchase ready-to-use now to help the children in most desperate conditions.

“We need to place orders for RUTF about six months in advance so that they can continue producing the quantities that we need in order to save lives. If we do not have the [$64MM] funding immediately available, we cannot start placing orders so that production can continue at the speed and rate that pre-positioning requires,” said Mercado.
World Hunger Facts:

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, which measures 'undernutrition’, there are 925 million people world-wide, 13.6% of the world’s population, who are undernourished in 2010.

Nearly all of the undernourished are in developing countries. The number of hungry people has increased dramatically since 1995-97. The FAO noted the increase were due to three factors:

1) neglect of agriculture relevant to very poor people by governments and international agencies;
2) the current worldwide economic crisis, and
3) the significant increase of food prices in the last several years which has been devastating to those with only a few dollars a day to spend.

According to Bread for the World, "14.5 percent of U.S. households struggle to put enough food on the table. More than 48 million Americans—including 16.2 million children—live in food insecurity. More than one in five children is at risk of hunger. Among African-Americans and Latinos, nearly one in three children is at risk of hunger."

The scary thing: according to Food First, "abundance, not scarcity, best describes the world's food supply."
Enough wheat, rice and other grains are produced to provide every human being with 3,500 calories a day. That doesn't even count many other commonly eaten foods - vegetables, beans, nuts, root crops, fruits, grass-fed meats, and fish.
Enough food is available to provide at least 4.3 pounds of food per person a day worldwide: two and half pounds of grain, beans and nuts, about a pound of fruits and vegetables, and nearly another pound of meat, milk and eggs-enough to make most people fat!
The problem is that many people are too poor to buy readily available food.
Even most "hungry countries" have enough food for all their people right now. Many are net exporters of food and other agricultural products.

As of 2010, according to the U.S. Census--Annual Social and Economic Supplements from the Current Population Survey, one in seven living in the U.S. lives below the poverty line; more than one in five children in the United States lives below the poverty line. One in four African Americans lives below the federal poverty line, compared to about one in eight Americans overall; more than one in four Latino households—26.9 percent—struggles to put food on the table, compared to 14.6 percent of all households. The Urban Institute, in a 2007 report--Transition In and Out of Poverty (PDF), showed that more than half of all Americans will live in poverty at some point before they reach 65.

Food is our common ground, a universal experience. - James Beard

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Menacing the Hunger Banquet

Food is sacred. It nourishes us; That I don’t have to rationalize, I take for granted.

That’s why I begin my perspectives on sustainability with food; how you relate to sustainability is your business.

But food, to me, is sacred.                      

Lauren and I attended the IUPUI sponsored hunger banquet last night for the second year. We were excited and sure the time would be well spent. Eliminating world hunger is a cause we support; food, I think, should be a universal positive right. But that’s my personal problem.

We thoroughly enjoyed our time; yet it was nothing we had expected. Of course, as always, I had to instigate as the menace:

We arrived a few minutes before the event started. I walked around and saw the many affiliates and sponsors; Kids Against Hunger and Bread For the World was also in attendance, so was World Vision, my favorite charity, and my favorite local brewery, Sun King.

Mmmm... please excuse the Homer moment.

I enjoyed talking to different sponsors; I learn a lot from what others are doing. I was a little puzzled by a new organization with a display of a complicated water purifier system costing more than $3000, runs on electricity, with some assembly required? What is that suppose to do for a village that could hardly afford the price of a meal? They did however boast a solar-powered source; but just as the guy rolled out his modular solar unit, the event began.

Food was served!

Each year, the banquet splits up the attendees into first, second, and third "world" consumers; each with a different dining experience. Last year, we drew the luck and sat at the second world table. We second-worlders each had a burrito enough to feed a family, while the first world enjoyed catered food and the third enjoyed rice and beans. I remember last year I did not think to share my food; I lived with the guilt for a year in passing. This year, I wanted a chance to prove myself, but as for how far irony goes, I’m not in the position of sharing; we were assigned as third-worlders this time.

I walked around the room and took some pictures of the uneaten privileged food; I wanted to see just how many people had plenty to share but decided not to. We have a systemic problem in this country relating to food—we throw too much of it away and we rarely think twice about the food insecurities faced by others. Isn't that what this banquet is all about? Isn't that why the eating arrangements are set up by "status"?

Lauren asked one of the volunteers what they planned on doing with the left overs. We thought they would donate them to the Wheeler Mission. She was also curious about the trash itself, knowing that some of the used plastic cups and plates could be recycled. They were suppose to be recycled. Recycling to Lauren is sacred.

However, once I made it to the back.....

Just as I caught one photo, I saw an elder lady rush towards me.

The next thing I remember was her finger in my face telling me I shouldn’t be in the place; there were health codes I had apparently violated.

I explained to her that I saw no signs saying I cannot enter, no one had tried to stop me, my intent was not to abuse the food further in some violate way against public health standards; I had simply wanted to look because food is sacred to me.

"I wanted to see the ironies of a hunger banquet." I told her.

I promptly left the area as she screamed about these "health codes." I’ll be sure to look them up but I always thought they were to protect food, not secrets. I found Lauren and boasted my run-in with the authority. Before we could even all laugh about it, the woman in charge—the one who would’ve had to inform me of my Miranda rights—came rushing at me with her finger raised, anger charged, ready to take to battle.

“You were not supposed to be back there. You know if any of this food had been served on the floor I couldn’t serve them again. The health code says so.”

I felt an instant change in the mood of the place; everyone around seemed to be looking right at me. I told her again I had seen no signs; I wasn’t aware of any health code laws prohibiting my right to freely inquire in public places?

"Look, it wasn't personal. I just wanted to know." 

If there be health laws prohibiting my rights to know, I’d say it’s a stupid one. Why wouldn’t I want to know how my food is treated before and after consumption? Especially at a hunger banquet? Or at a food processing center? Or at a CAFO?

I did not have anything personally directed against her. My beef is with the mentalities of our systemic problems, with laws that are too rigid to cause people wanting to protect those systemic problems; my beef is with a institution of thought that does not give people the freedom to negotiate to live in better ways, that does not give people the incentive to think for themselves. Blind enforcement leads to bureaucrats who knows nothing of the spirits of the law to abuse laws; it takes a university staff wanting to tell me what I can and cannot think because of her health codes.

My beef is with laws that favor blind enforcement as opposed to reason. I could’ve offered her to take some of the food to the Wheeler Mission or some homeless person who did not even share our “third world” status; but instead I was stunned by her reaction. 

If I had violated some social taboo for wanting to see how food is treated then I publicly apologize. But let’s not forget that the purpose of wanting to solve food hunger issues is to solve them, not to perpetuate the same bulls#$@ we have been living with (excuse the language). And we won’t know the kind of bs we are living with unless we see them. Right to know is the only thing that is really protecting our precious healthy capitalism in an ever unsustainable world, isn't it?  

I look forward to what troubles I shall menace next year. ☺

In honor of the Simpsons' 500th Episode:

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Say Cheese - "No, It's Impossible Today To Buy Into A Religion That Doesn't Do Too Much."

I love food; it's something I feel comfortable pontificating about; I want to talk about cheese for a second.

I'm currently taking a "law and social change" class; naturally the subject of religion came to class discussions. I asked a rather ignorant question because I just really want to know: why is it when I visit different denomination of services, different houses of "God," I get the "our religion is better than theirs" speech?

I came from China in the 90s; and having been born into modern China, religion was nonexistent during my upbringing. Naturally I visited as many different houses of worship as I could here in the U.S., looking for answers. When I was in Iraq, I took ever chance I could on missions visiting mosques and I spoke to many Turkish workers about their Islamic faith. Everyone fed me the same kind of bull, (excuse for the language).

The most honest answer, as far as I can remember, was from a military Chaplain. He told me that because the military is a very diverse place, by regulation he is not allowed to consult me on a "religion" per se; he is able to guide me spiritually. Believe me, during those days when dead bodies littered the Iraqi streets, one needed a lot of spiritual consultation; but I digress.

To answer my dumb question about religion, one student used cheese to analogize the diversity of religions phenomenon in this country.

It made sense. This is a nation built on the idea of freedom of religion; naturally, there would be many choices of different religion to give one the maximum freedom to choose his or her spiritual affiliations. But I want to continue that analogy and try to make my question from class clear: (rock with me for a second)

Yes, we have many different types of cheeses in this country. The multitudes of choices help us take comfort in the fact that this is still the land of opportunity; one cheese is just as good as another, both are equally necessary catering to the specific taste buds of the consumer. No where else on earth will we find a hundred different kinds of cheese in one place. It's a very powerful incentive.

But isn’t one of the advantages of having such an diversity of cheeses that so we can appreciate the concept of “cheese” yet still able to discover the many facets of its complexities? Thank "God" for the one who invented cheese, we say.

Yes, cheese is a living organism that matures at different times, tastes different with different use of ingredients, and even made from fundamentally different dairies from different cows of many different lands; but is the purpose of having such a health diversity so that we can content which cheese is better than the other? Or simply so that we can chose one from the other? Or is the name of the game learning to “appreciate cheese?” What is the purpose of having all those choices if we never come to know what really makes cheese "Cheese?" (For the beer connoisseurs, I ask the same of the many different micro-crafted beers we see.)

As for religion, my confusion arises from something the Dalai Lama had said once: “all major religious traditions carry basically the same message, that is love, compassion and forgiveness; the important thing is they should be part of our daily lives.”

I simply want to know (however you wish to answer the perplexing cheese question): is religion something we employ to say "yes, I am better than you, so I get to bomb your convoy"; or "yes, my religion is better than yours so that means I get to shell rockets on your children?" Or is religion something that we believe can and will bring us together to appreciate humanity?

The answer seems obvious, but I meet cheese makers who think their cheese is better than another’s; and I meet many more buyers who believe such diversity of the cheeses is for them specifically, so that they get to buy, and judge, one cheese from another.

For me, cheese was something new coming to the U.S.; same goes for religion. As far as for tasting and cooking, I've found different cheeses bring different intrigues to the table; but I like to think the objective there is so we can sit around a table and enjoy the cheeses and conversations.

And if you should raise the point about a healthy competition mentality is necessary improve the lot of cheese's quality and diversity, (that's what makes this country great, right?) I ask: can two cheese makers come to share their methods and develop better cheeses? or is their knowledge specifically protected by this curious thing we call "intellectual property?"

What does this have anything to do with sustainability you ask? Well, simple: if we cannot understand our choices, we cannot choose to be sustainable, can we?

I leave you with a very interesting TED presentation on the "dogma of choice"

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

An Unsustainable Tech Market - the Battles of Form, Kandinsky vs. Pollock

I try to stay away from talking more about stocks these days; because I don’t understand them. There is no rhyme or reason, no algorithm can predict how mass psychology will reflect in arbitrary numbers. It’s not even a probability; the best one can really do is make an educated guess based on past patterns.

Wassily Kandinsky
But there is Art in the market place—we the painter, market the canvas, and the information exchange are remnants of our brushes passing; it’s an aesthetic order based on fundamentals, opinions (analyst reports), and an information exchange (loosely the market infrastructure—computers, phones, media companies, stock exchanges) leaving its mark on society and its various reaches into our daily lives.

I get the suspicion that Money isn’t the real Currency of market trades; although it weighs heavily on who can participate, I see information is what is really traded—or at least, the opinions of information from one (what a communicator, intentionally or unintentionally, convey as “meaning”) transferring to another thus influence trades based on what the recipient understood as the “intent” of the information received.

This transferring of meaning to intent occurs with a backdrop of subject matter information; subject matter such as psychology, history, the hard science (especially important to the stock market is mathematics), etc.; while the depth of these subject matters range from low to high, trading is one of those things one can participate with a few basic (low level of) understanding of universal subject matters—math to better appreciate the fundamentals, language to interpret the opinions, and money to make the trade.

Of course it’s not as simple as I make it out to be. The backbone of that information exchange is valuation. Valuation is also a guessing game and much more involved with the technical aspect of meaning and intent. To be truly an expert in the conversation involving valuation, one would have to at least attain a PhD level understanding of all of the soft and hard sciences and then master them collectively. It is, therefore, at most the subjective side of our trading experience; less geniuses are common occurrence in the trading business.

We have seen valuation wreck havoc in our market’s past; all of the bubbles tells us to be careful of our wild brushes of paints. With the recent Facebook IPO and European crisis, I had been following the stock market closely. I’m also a techie, and I love my 3G/4G WiFi ready Android phone; I also have Sprint, a company I find very interesting in terms of valuation. Sprint announced its 4Q earnings this morning, and it beat the analysts’ expectations by $0.02. But it is still losing money, coming in at a loss of 35 cents per share instead of the expected loss of 37 cents per share. One blogger called it the “look mom, I got an F, but it’s the best F I’ve gotten so far” thing.

I happen to think Sprint is undervalued, but many bloggers seem to think otherwise. It wasn’t until recently, I saw why so many had been having a different intuition.

One business journalist points out, Sprint is going down the proverbial drain because the tech industry is changing.

When I had my first Internet ready computer, it had a dial-up and AOL’s infamous 30-day free trial. In those days, computers lasted five years in the office spaces and homes. Just a little over 10 years later, they're mostly expense-ed at companies. At private homes, they were expendable—consumable. This is especially true with the recent mobile/social tech age. Now, even though the computers are capable of working for 10 years, if you don't expense them you are loosing competitive edge. As a company, you won’t have the fastest, the most attractive to the new work force; in homes and in our private lives, we are made to feel if we don’t have the newest gadget we must be losers. Computers stockpile landfills, their value disappears before your eyes.

Dana Blankenhom writes:

There is a solution in the utility model. WiFi works this way. Roads work this way. The equipment is an expense to each user, the cost of the depreciation is shared through a single authority. If that infrastructure is privately-owned, it's regulated. Or it can be publicly-owned - paid for through taxes.

It's not communism, and it's not socialism. It's how people in the late 19th century learned to deliver electricity, natural gas, how they created ports and telephone service and, eventually, our Interstate Highway system. It's how the Internet works. It's J.P. Morgan, but it's also Teddy Roosevelt. It works.

Sprint, it seems, has been occupying a fictional space on the spectrum of the trades because information is misinterpreted by a shared belief that the intent is to ever expand. We are under the false hope that more will join us in the hoax—it works almost like a pyramid scheme.

This doesn't work. This idea of separate proprietary networks, with obligations to serve everyone but no assurance everyone will use the network, results in a lot of wasted bandwidth. You're building three infrastructures, or four, where there should be one, and you're constrained for capacity where there is high demand.

Dana Blankenhom, Sprint Slowly Circling the Drain.

Why do I get the tingling that Blankenhom is talking about Facebook? You have heard that Facebook is having an IPO soon, or else you’ve been living under a rock? But where is the value in Facebook’s estimated $100 Billion? I use Facebook, although I’ve cut my uses down because of its unpredictable privacy settings and constant changes to more and more resemble MySpace (remember MySpace?).

It’s claim to fame is some 150 million users per day; sure, but how many of them actually look at the ads? Even a decent number of people click on ads, how much of that $100 Bs is it making Facebook?

Another question: with more and more people pissed off about Facebook's privacy rules, how long does Facebook expect to live off its involuntary pull of user information and selling it for money? Even if it achieves the status of content delivers like the old News Papers, or TV programing, is it really worth $100 B?

And even if FB manages to pull enough meaningful information about how consumers are "liking" some content and not others, making educated guesses about how we would spend our money online, is that information really worth $100 B? The only other service I can think of that resemble what FB can do is Neilsen, a media market research and consumer targeting company; it only had a market capitalization of $7 B when it had its IPO in Jan of 2011. If the argument is that FB can provide meaningful consumer data, is it really providing more than ten times more meaningful information than Neilsen for a medium that has not yet reached the maturity of TV programing and other traditional media outlets? 

What if FB is really taking on Google? Google claims over 7 billion visits per day, close to 50 times the amount of users on FB. Google's market capitalization is only about $200 billion, is FB really going up against the Internet's number 1 at half of the market capitalization but only 1/50 of its transaction base? Are the people guessing at the next few decades of the Internet game really think there is that kind of consuming power backing up not only the conglomerate Google, but FB as well? along with all the other tech sector babies? At what point do we tell ourselves that enough is enough, one more infrastructure is unnecessary?

I'm afraid that's not a decision either Google or FB can make alone. The market has to make that decision--the market has to engage in that information exchange with society itself.  

Everyday I see more and more social networking sites pop-up. More and more they are geared towards a very specific demographic. It’s like the web space is self-organizing, specializing, cutting out the inefficiencies in the information exchange. I wonder how long it will be before the market itself does this? And rule out Facebook as irrelevant from the likes of all the other specialty Social Networks?

I will have to say that at least Facebook have collected enough basic, unchallenged, public information about us, it is here to stay. But who would really pay $100 B on information they can get anyway for free? So my prediction is Facebook will eventually value out at a lower bracket; that will be triggered by the hardware market downsizing--the Sprint Drain danger. At that point, all of the people who bought in at FB's $100 B valuation mark, will realize they are holding on to a "free" company. 

So Sprint will be on my watch list for a while. It’s tumbling, if Blankenhom is correct, will probably trigger another bubble bust. That’s when you know to check your funds out early and avoid another disaster for your retirement.

Pollock - aka. Jack the Dripper
Or else, you'd be the one left holding the check paying for the unnecessary and unsustainable infrastructure.

All art is autobiographical. The pearl is the oyster's autobiography. -- Federico Fellini

What is our autobiography?

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Writing for Social Change - the RNC's Agenda 21 Dilemma.

My writing is inconsistent; sometimes it’s decent and other times it’s just blatantly offensive to good English. But I keep writing this blog for two reasons: to learn to write well and to learn to reason well my own rational thoughts for the better of this nation, of this world, of this Human Experience. It's a process for me to become a better writer, a better human being.

I’ve been seeing a lot of writings lately that serve just the opposite aesthetic forms of discourse. Instead of building hopes and learning, intrinsically, these writing build fear and chaos in others. The writers write not to inform, but to resolve to a more sinister end.

The Republican National Committee — the group that shapes the national GOP political platform, and indirectly, shapes the whole country’s political discourse, recently wrote, and passed, a resolution in January warning Americans of a plot hidden in a United Nations report called Agenda 21.

In the words of Greg Hanscom from Grist:

Short of suggesting that we all wear tinfoil hats and keep an eye out for contrails, the RNC would have been hard-pressed to put itself further on the wacko fringe.

You can read the an article about this RNC initiative here at the New York Times. You can also download the whole copy of their resolution from the RNC’s website here.

The RNC is pushing for the resolution to be adopted into the official Republican Party Platform at the national convention in Tampa, Fla., in August. This means it will be an officially endorsed piece of writing of a sinister plot and irreversible sense of becoming a fear-monger of a society.

But here’s the thing: Agenda 21 has been around for TWO DECADES, and, as the RNC resolution points out, “the U.S. government and no state or local government is legally bound by [it].” The agenda, which grew out of the 1992 Earth Summit in Rio, is a call for international cooperation to address poverty, hunger, and a host of other issues tied to the unraveling of natural ecosystems. It calls for “the broadest public participation and the active involvement of the non-governmental organizations.”

And what about ICLEI, the U.N.’s alleged agent of destruction? The group offers services for a growing number of towns and cities that see measures such as energy conservation and mass transit as ways to save boatloads of public money and to attract businesses and economic development. More than 550 local governments in the U.S. have signed up for voluntary membership to date.
Greg Hanscom from Grist

The RNC antics would be more amusing if Tea Party Republicans weren’t picking up the tactics and writing more to scare children; but it seems the scare tactics work on children as well as on our politicians:

House Speaker John Boehner and the Republican leadership of the U.S. House of Representatives announced plans last Thursday to cut all designated funding for mass transit. This came just two days after the House transportation and infrastructure committee unveiled a draft transportation bill that would cut funding for bike and pedestrian infrastructure and the Safe Routes to School program.

The New York Times story reports that Tea Partiers are conjuring Agenda 21 in fights against everything from mass transit to energy-saving smart meters. “The real job of smart meters is to spy on you and control you — when you can and cannot use electrical appliances,” one Tea Partier told a crowd at a recent hearing in Roanoke, Va. Newt Gingrich stoked the furor when he referenced Agenda 21 in one of the Republican debates last month.

This isn’t brand new. Dan Maes, a Tea Party candidate for Colorado governor in 2010, claimed that a bike sharing program in Denver was a “well disguised” plot to turn the city into a “United Nations community.” In the San Francisco Bay area last spring, the black-helicopters crowd used the report to rally fanatical opposition to a regional planning effort. Conspiracy theorists in Florida even saw the New World Order lurking in a septic tank inspection law. (They’re in the plumbing!)

The list of paranoia goes one; you can find them here on Grist. 

I write for two reasons:

First, English is not my first language. As an intrinsically competitive person, I want to be a better writer than myself from yesterday. It compensates for the fact that I can no longer write poetry and verses in Chinese—a skill I once cherished and was praised for by my teachers. In a way, writing is my escape from knowing that I can no longer relate to my Chineseness in intimate ways.

So I write to learn to love my new place, my new country, my new language.

Writing also helps me think. From writing, I learn that my thoughts are not as organized as I like them to be. Writing helps me put words into places that fit, thoughts into places that make sense; like playing Tetris, writing for me is about the art of lining things into sensible blocks so I can clear the mess and see the world in better ways.

I write to learn and I know my writing and my knowledge are tangled in an imperfect state of becoming.

That’s my Chinese influence: Confucius thought that linear rationalism is not the way to reason with the world, Daoism and Buddhism both reinforces the ways of an art form in transcendental transitions. To me, therefore, the western world made no sense at first; but through my writing, I have come to learn about this new world as an aesthetic art form of ideals and passionate people.

From those deeply ingrained eastern influences, I have come to see America as its truest place of freedom and dreams, not in the luxuries, but in its people’s determination and participation in a great discourse that ultimately determines the country’s own path of becoming.

I’ve been seeing a lot of interests lately in “writing for social change.” My first inclination is that this is a great thing. But like all good things, as I’ve come to learn, caution should be warranted. Writing for the fear mongering change is a dangerous thing. Writing for social change in the RNC fashion is just plainly irresponsible. 

What is writing for social change?

I sometimes write just for the sake of writing. I look at what someone else has said, I note the affinity of their opinions with mine, then I pontificate with some random words placed on a web-space; and I called that writing. Some would coin it as writing for social change (regardless of how ineffective it may be).

I always get the urge to correct them: “NO” I would scream in my head, “this is not writing for social change. It’s more of an exercise of the mindless and becoming of what is not to be.”

That kind of writing, of which I do often, is writing without heart, soul, or passion—it’s writing for the sake of writing; just like voting just for the sake of voting; or fighting for the sake of fighting. It is almost as bad as writing for the sake of scaring people into voting in one direction or another. 

We do it because it satisfies us in some weird ways, it helps us sleep better at night, knowing that we have at least done something today—fought a war, killed a terrorist, blamed someone else for our problems.


Writing is about finding reasonable ways to better ourselves, to BECOME better human beings amongst misunderstood others. It's a hard thing to do; it takes time, patience, and determination. Most importantly, it takes the audacity to write for the right purpose, but know when I am just plainly wrong. I can’t seem to get away from it; it’s addictive to me, a nostalgic drug that reminds me of the once young and innocent me who did not see the world as a terrible place; before I saw what happened on Tiananmen, before I patched up injured kids in Iraq, before I saw the homeless and injured veterans across America.

In all of my experiences, I have not felt for one moment that a "call for international cooperation to address poverty, hunger, and a host of other issues tied to the unraveling of natural ecosystems" is wrong. But then again, I'm only one person. I write to only better myself--for selfish reasons.

So I will keep writing; you can bet that my writing will not further this whole mess with the RNC and its tactics to scare our children and politicians. I have bigger fish to fry, a planet to save. I have bad writings to do.

I urge you to write as well. In your writing, may you discover how you can become a better human being, to reshape our future "development[s] sustainable—to ensure that it meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

U. N. World Comm’n on Env’t and Dev., Our Common Future., Oxford: Oxford Press, p. 8, (1987).

Thank you and good night.

古之欲明明德於天下者, 先治其國欲治其國者, 先齊其家欲齊其家者, 先修其身欲修其身者, 先正其心欲正其心者, 先誠其意欲誠其意者, 先致其知致知在格物  (The ancients, who wished to spread virtue throughout the world, began with their own States. To govern well their States, they gathered their families. Wishing to unite their families, they cultivated their persons. Wishing to cultivate their persons, they rectified their hearts. To rectify their hearts, they sought to be sincere. To be sincere in their thoughts, they cured their imperfect knowledge through learning. Knowledge lay in the investigation of things.)          

- The Great Learning, Confucius

The investigation of things manifests in our most sincere writings.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

"Beautiful Struggle" -- lyrics courtesy Talib Kweli, for “fair use.”

(This post contains language not appropriate for minors. It contains Talib Kweli's lyrics from "a Beautiful Struggle." I listened to this song during most of my restless times in Iraq. I have come to realize recently what the song means. This new appreciation for the lyrics I attribute to a class I'm taking on law and social change. Through the many things we are reading, I am beginning to understand that Dr. King's struggle have much in common with struggles of many peoples around the world. That's why it is so powerful. The atrocities, however, are equally shared by those who are struggling for change--even today. Welcoming Black History month, I wanted to write something I saw. In the words of my Mexican brother from another mother: "Ideas are Untouchable.")

This is a tear jerker

Emmett Till’s eyes were gouged, never to be closed; somewhere un-rested, his eyes would be watching his prize.

Marilyn Nelson A Wreath for Emmett Till- Illustrated by Philippe Lardy

By a vote of 422-2 in the House and with unanimous support from the Senate, the Emmett Till Unsolved Civil Rights Crime Act was signed into law in 2008 by President Bush. The Act authorized a spending of $10 million per year over ten years for the attorney general to investigate and prosecute other civil rights era cold cases.

The ACLU criticized the bill as having come too late, can hardly be expected to contribute much to justice and reconciliation since “witnesses and suspects are aging and physical evidence may be scant.” Senator Dodd joins the dissenting sentiment calling the bill “long overdue;” but he is optimistic for its future:

While this legislation cannot change the past or heal the wounds caused by senseless crimes of racial hatred, it can help restore faith in our justice system. And to those who perpetrated these heinous crimes and still walk the streets as free members of society, the enactment of this law should send a message that they will not escape the hand of justice.

Both seem to miss the point about Emmett Till’s pass:

The revolution is here, the revolution is here people
I said it once, I'll say it twice
You gots to be ready
The revolution is inside of you
People, the revolution is here, yeah

The revolution's here
No one can lead you off your path
You'll try to change the world
So please excuse me while I laugh
No one can change your ways (rock with me for a second)
No one can lead you off your path
You'll try to change the world
So please excuse me while I laugh

A few years later, Tracy Russo, a spokesperson for the Department of Justice, echoed ACLU’s frustrations in a DOJ blog:

Because of legal limitations, it is unlikely that there will be federal jurisdiction over most of these cases. Two critical statutes used to prosecute racially motivated homicides, interference with federally protected activities and interference with housing rights, were not enacted until 1968. Under the Ex Post Facto Clause of the Constitution, these laws cannot be applied retroactively to conduct that preceded their enactment. The five-year statute of limitations on most federal criminal charges is another challenge for prosecutors.

Yo, I heard it's said the revolution won't be televised
But in the land of milk and honey there's a date you gotta sell it by
Otherwise it just expires and spoils
And these folks jump out the pot when the water too hot
Cause the fire boils inside

You go to church to find you some religion
And all you hear is connivin' and gossip and contradiction and
You try to vote and participate in the government
And the muh'fuckin' Democrats is actin' like Republicans

You join an organization that know black history
But ask them how they plan to make money and it's a mystery
Lookin' for the remedy but you can't see what's hurtin' you
The revolution's here, the revolution is personal . . .

When people pass, we tend to want to close their eyes for them. Their last impression of the world would be a restful darkness filled with the coming of lights. It’s a last sort of comfort we feel we owe to the dead for having endured the living. Surviving their pain, we hope that one day, when time comes for us, there shall be a friendly face there to offer the same comfort to us, so we can sleep in private, in peace.

But once in a while, a pair of eyes is kept open to watch over us, to bear witness to our aspirations. Once in a while, a pain so great, so public, that it would keep eyes on us, on the prize.

The revolution's here
No one can lead you off your path
You'll try to change the world
So please excuse me while I laugh
No one can change your ways
No one can lead you off your path
You'll try to change the world
So please excuse me while I laugh

Why had two men so obvious murders could’ve gotten free from the justice? Why would dead souls turn in their graves to face their Anglo-Saxon-ness for such injustice? Those things we still only think of in the “binary”: we see those men either as murders or great defenders, the rest of us innocent; we believe some of us racists, but we fail to see the humanity in others. In these false hopes, we deprive ourselves of our dreams: that one day things will change, just not today. Today we are too busy or too afraid to dig a little deeper, to discover what it really means to have eyes watching from beyond; we are too shy for the uncommon the human experience.

Today, we accept the things as they are; we say “Howard Armstrong should have voted to convict Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam of murdering Emmett Till.” But we soon forget that Mose Wright had stood there and convicted both men, in those times, against a people with convictions so strong that they are ready to kill to protect them.

We are reminded that to make such courageous decision, 

[f]irst, we would have had to decide that the established order, the system in which he had lived [our] entire li[ves], was wrong. Second, [we] would have had to decide that it should change. Third, [we] would have had to decide that it could change. And finally, [we] would have had to decide that [we ourselves] should do something to change it.

It’s easy to prejudice Emmett’s skin color and the egregious murder so that we can comfort ourselves by saying we would take those steps.

If confronted with some other injustice today, something that escapes our prejudices so well defined, would we be able to call into question our entire set of system of belief, decide that we are wrong, decide we should make the change, and finally do something to make those changes?

. . . laughter's the best medicine
But the troubles you have today you just can't laugh away
Stay optimistic, thinking change is gonna come like Donny Hathaway
You have to pray, on top of that, act today
Cause opportunity shrivel away like Tom Hanks in "Cast Away"

Today, we must decide if Claudette Colvin’s darker skin color makes her that much different from Rosa Park; we must decided if Claudette Colvin’s pregnancy by a marry man makes her that much less reputable than another.

Today we must decide if a poor child living in the United States is that much more precious or insufferable than a child living in elsewhere, we must decide if we can arbitrarily judge someone based on their religion, their wear, or the things too gruesome to remember? Isn’t there something deeper in the Human Experience?

Everybody pass away, the pastor prays, the family mournin'
Everybody act accordin' to the season that they born in
You'll try to change the world
You fight in the streets, start bleedin' 'til the blood is pourin'
In the gutter, mothers cry 'til the Lord be livin' by the sword and
All that folks want is safety, they goin' gun crazy
The same reason Reagan was playin' war games in the '80s
The same reason I always rock dog chains on my babies
The struggle is beautiful, I'm too strong for your slavery

Just a year before Dr King was murdered, he reminded us that:

[t]he black revolution is much more than struggle for the rights of Negroes. It is forcing America to face all its interrelated flaws – racism, poverty, militarism, and materialism. It is exposing evils that are rooted deeply in the whole structure of our society. It reveals systemic rather than superficial flaws and suggests that radical reconstruction of society itself is the real issue to be faced.

The revolution's here
No one can lead you off your path
You'll try to change the world
So please excuse me while I laugh
No one can change your ways
No one can lead you off your path
You'll try to change the world
So please excuse me while I laugh
The revolution's here
No one can lead you off your path
You'll try to change the world
So please excuse me while I laugh
No one can change your ways
No one can lead you off your path
You'll try to change the world
So please excuse me while I laugh

While Dr. King and Emmett Till keep their eyes open on their prize, where have our eyes been looking? Do we see it with our own eyes or are we only too afraid? What sort of human beings does it make us if we can only use Emmett’s eyes?

If you can’t speak out against this kind of thing,
a crime that’s so unjust,
Your eyes are filled with dead men’s dirt,
your mind is filled with dust.
Your arms and legs they must be in shackles and chains,
and your blood it must be refused to flow,
For you let this human race fall down so God-awful low!

-- Bob Dylan, “The Death of Emmitt Till”

It's a beautiful thing that's happenin' right now
Right now G
Yo, I'm rockin' with my man Hi-Tek on the track right now
We fightin' the good fight
The Beautiful Struggle
Yeah, let's go

(So please excuse me while I laugh)

Today, we are fighting a battle for our planet, for its very survival. Changing the world is a complicated business; it starts slow and in questionable forms. It offers death and atonement, war and peace, struggle and progress. Today we take steps to question our entire system of belief, and say that there are parts unworkable, and we decide that we can do something about it, now. Yeah, let's go.

From time to time, there is a narrative . . .