Sunday, November 13, 2011

Growth, Development, And The Urgent Need For a Better Way

In Beyond the Limits, the twenty-year sequel to The Limits to Growth, the researchers make a distinction between development and growth, and write:

In the rich world, economic growth is believed to be necessary for employment, social mobility, and technical advance. In the poor world, economic growth seems to be the only way out of poverty. And a poor family sees that many children can be a source not only of joy, but also of hope for economic security. Until other solutions are found for the legitimate pproblems of the world, people will cling to the idea that growth is the key to a better future, and they will do all they can to produce more growth.

We should recognize that there's a certain amount of hurry-up involved too.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Beginning Beyond The Limits

In 1972's The Limits to Growth, the authors made a case that, if trends in resource use, population, pollution, industrial and agricultural production continued, the world would reach its limits to growth within a century. They also showed that it would be possible to avoid this catastrophe, and that doing so would be easier the earlier the world began.

Here's a paragraph from the 1992 sequel, Beyond the Limits:

But until we started updating The Limits to Growth we had not let our minds fully absorb the message. The human world is beyond its limits. The present way of doing things is unsustainable. The future, to be viable at all, must be one of drawing back, easing down, healing. Poverty cannot be ended by indefinite material growth; it will have to be addressed while the material human economy contracts. Like everyone else, we didn't really want to come to these conclusions.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Eco-Village, Neologism, And Artifact Ecology

Steve, my chief partner in writing the eco-village operating manual may have found a location.

I went to look at photovoltaic setups with neighbor, Joe Hesla, who asked me if I were planning on moving to the eco-village. I said that our neighborhood was my eco-village.

Steve likes to make up words and phrases. I believe English teachers call made-up vocabulary "neologisms." They are often Latin compounds. Steve usually makes his from scratch. His often seem to duplicate existing words, although Steve might feel that they remove some distasteful accidental meaning or emphasize something that isn't in the conventional word. "Woma" is a case in point. It really means the same thing as "woman," a mature female member of our species. The emphasis for Steve is sexual maturity, although I don't know why removing the en shows that. Inadvertently, or otherwise, it also removes the implication that a woman is a man with a womb.

One phrase of Steve's that everybody ought to adopt is artifact ecology. In artifact ecology, we consider the various materials and processes we use in providing ourselves with some means of survival or culture. Resource use, pollution, effect on community, benefit are all considered for -- say -- a person web logging.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

George Papandreou And The Limits To Growth

Here's a 2500 year old Greek bronze discovered in the sea the same year, 1972, that The Limits to Growth was published.

LTG was the popular summary of an MIT study that modeled the interactions between population, food production, industrialization, pollution, and non-renewable resources in the world economy. There were about a hundred variables, and the researchers were looking to see what would make the system grow, collapse, or oscillate.

St. Paul native, and Greek Prime Minister, George Papandreou has called for a referendum on his country's proposed European bailout. The trade is austerity for 110 billion Euros. Service contributes 78.8% of GDP, and the public sector accounts for 40% of jobs. Oops.

If anything can save us, it probably won't come from public policy, but maybe a country with a severely straitened economy could afford to tell the industrial economy to "Take a hike. We're going to see how many of us can keep eating."

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Caged Hazel

Two year-old hazel, caged for winter. I lost half of my ten hazels last winter, and all ten of their predecessors. I don't understand, because deer are supposed to think they taste awful. I'm not taking any chances with the rabbits and mice this year. Notice the lid. The bit of silver immediately above is the caged Rabella.

Phone Conversation With Steve

Nice phone conversation with Steve last night about eco-village project, and general premises. Good communication. Sent him a copy of the current version of the Intro and outline for the Operating Manual.

Left voice mail message for Noel about TC Daily Planet story.

Winterizing The Rabella

Mellow late-October afternoon, first-season espaliered Rabella apple on dwarfing rootstock. Two three by three-and-a-half foot sheets of half-inch hardware cloth, spread with a piece of light lumber and stitched together with baling wire. Tried to anchor the cage with staples made from wire clothes hangers, but couldn't get a good grip on the ground. Scraped a groove with a garden trowel, and buried the bottom with dirt from a harvested potato tower to exclude mice.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Winterizing My Apple Trees

Two apple trees, planted about a yard apart. "Freedom" on the left and "Liberty" on the right, purchased from St. Lawrence Nursery in Pottsdam, NY. The names claim freedom and liberty from disease. A couple of big, permaculture orchards I know have had good luck with them. They are not on dwarfing rootstock, and I'm expecting to have to prune them to keep them at a scale that's reasonable for their site. I plan to graft branches between them, Freedom to Liberty, to form a ladder, and train other branches to a single goblet shape.

The top photo shows the trunks wrapped with "Tree Wrap," two inch-wide paper, to protect the bark from winter cold and temperature changes. In the bottom photo, they're caged with hardware cloth to keep snow-tunneling mice from gnawing them to death.

I will do something similar with my hazel bushes, whose predecessors were victims of predator bunnies, and an espaliered Rabella apple, as well as several more established, but still young fruit trees.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Landmark Forum, Breakdown-To-Breakthrough, Eco-Village Breakdown

Tuesday night was the last night of the Landmark Forum. Most of us brought guests. I didn't. Barbara was specifically not interested, and I didn't invite Sam, having made an executive decision that he should save his five hundred bucks.

Not a whole lot new. For the most part the affair was a sales presentation for the guests. It was an accurate presentation, and the guests received useful information, gratis. The value I got from the evening was a refresher of something I'd missed:

Landmark calls times when you're frustrated "breakdowns," and talks about how to turn them into "breakthroughs."

The way you do this is to work from the commitment the frustration highlights. The commitment's the important thing, and you need to act in some new way to further your commitment.

On the eco-village front, I've had a breakdown communicating with my colleagues. They are way under-capitalized (read "real broke"), and one way this manifests is e-mail accounts but no computers, pager accounts and balky voice mail, but no phones.

Breakthrough will come from initiative, persistence and creativity on my part. Use of the USPS? Regular, expected, calls to the voice mail? Regular, scheduled, meetings?

Maybe finding phones, computers and internet connections will be the ultimate answer. This will require funding, and I'm not that flush myself. A benefactor will want to believe we're capable of something beyond what little we've done so far. The Daily Planet story will help, as will production of the manual I've begun and that we will write. I've encouraged Steve to get together with the community garden in his neighborhood, so as to establish a track record.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


I've known a guy, Steve, for about fifteen years. He's passionate about peak oil. He's also a client of the mental health system, and lives on a disability stipend. Something brilliant about him is his idea that an eco-village would be a good home for marginalized people like himself.

I have been helping him and two of his friends. We got together to prep for an interview that Steve had landed with a public affairs program on KFAI, the local community radio station. We're also working on a story we plan to submit to Twin Cities Daily Planet.

I'm working on an operating manual for the eco-village. My winter project. The technologies and lifestyle I'll describe in it are ones that I want to promote, but as a retired bus driver, I really don't have standing to be heard. The beautiful, ironic thing about Steve and his friends is that these marginal guys have standing. These confused social dependents want to live ecologically. Creating and building this way of life would demand a level of initiative and self reliance from outcasts that few normal folk show.

Landmark Forum

I complete the Landmark forum tonight. It's a seminar to help me be more effective. The thing that it's left me with is a better self-bullshit detector. Part of my bullshit -- they call it "rackets" -- is being unenergetic about the things that I want to pursue.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Planting Daffodils

We planted a hundred daffodil bulbs Wednesday. Daffodils are the first fairly large flower of the spring, and it felt as though we were making an offering to the gods of pollination.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Bateson Metalogue Impinges on Life

So “Father” convinced “Daughter” that things get in a muddle because there are many more ways of being muddled than of being tidy.

Flip a coin ten times, and there are 1,024 combinations of heads and tails, but in only two of them are there no heads following heads or tails following tails.

I dispatched buses. Let’s say a company drives twenty thousand miles a day, and has a breakdown or accident every hundred thousand miles. It would be preposterous to expect the problems to come every fifth day (“Hey, brother, watch your back, today’s the twenty-fifth”), so the dispatcher goes through periods of multiple crisis and periods of calm. Things don’t happen in threes, but they do bunch up.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Bateson's "Metalogues"

Steps to an Ecology of Mind's first chapter is a series of "Metalogues," ostensible conversations between "Father," the author, and "Daughter," Mary Catherine Bateson. The earliest Metalogue is from 1948, when "Daughter" would have been ten, and ending in 1969.

The conversations cover several of Bateson's interests:

The reason why things inevitably get muddled,

Non-verbal communication,

Games, play, seriousness,

Measuring knowledge,

Why things have outlines,


and Instinct, explanatory principles, hypotheses.

Bateson wrote that the conversations "should be such that not only do the participants discuss the problem, but the structure of the conversation as a whole is relevant to the subject."

Late in his life, Bateson's nine-year old daughter, Nora, asked him if she would understand Steps. He said that she might be able to read the Metalogues. The last two must have been tough for her. "Daughter's" voice matures over the years, even though the conversations are compositions. She asks tougher questions, and gets more complex or ambiguous answers. All of the Metalogues are full of good things to ponder.

Several more Metalogues appear in Angels Fear, Gregory's posthumously published collaboration with Mary Catherine, most composed by a middle-aged "Daughter."

From "Why Do Things Get in a Muddle?"

D: Daddy, you didn't finish. Why do my things get the way I say isn't tidy?

F: But I
have finished -- it's just because there are more ways which you call "untidy" than there are which you call "tidy."

D: But that isn't a reason why --

F: But yes it is. And it is the real, and only, and very important reason.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Bateson: Creatura and Pleroma

Where Basteson (1904-1980) wound up was dividing the world into pleroma and creatura, ideas he got from Jung. You see pleroma in the photograph of the badlands. Beautiful forms but it’s all uplift and erosion, physics and chemistry. Creatura is life: people, redwood forests, Congress, “mind.” Mind is made of interacting parts or circuits, requires collateral energy, is triggered by difference, and requires circular or more complex interaction. He divided existence this way to avoid the mind-matter Cartesian split that he felt had corrupted enlightenment epistemology. Cogito ergo sum, but I am thinking: something material is doing something mental. Mind isn’t separate, and is fair game for investigation.

For Bateson this was “religious” in so many words, but not mechanical or superstitious. He took a while to get there, though, and there’s a lot of it that leaves me thinking, “Huh?” or “Why does that follow?” Lipset’s biography helps, but I still fall off here and there. I’m reading Steps to an Ecology of Mind studying the building blocks slowly and painstakingly, hoping I’ll be able to make the tough connections.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

More Bateson

I wrote a note to an old acidhead buddy to the effect that Bateson either makes me go "wish I'd said that," "wow, I never thought of that," or "huh?" I wrote a very telegraphic five hundred or a thousand words, and only got him out of his teens. I'm less than fluent with things like the relation between logical types/contextual paradox and double-bind theory. To say nothing of the relation between all that and phylogenetic homology. Still going "huh?". So now I've begun "Steps to an Ecology of Mind," the anthology of major Bateson academic papers, and the one among his three popular books I haven't read. Hoping for sort of reverse reductionism, or something like that.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Gregory Bateson

Brushing up on my Gregory Bateson for a profile in Duluth's Zenith City Weekly. Reading David Lipset's Gregory Bateson: Legacy of a Scientist.

 It's nice to have a guide. It's also interesting looking forward to explaining Gregory Bateson in under a thousand words. The great systems thinker, he's all of one piece; every idea depends on all the rest.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Trolley Tracks, Jon Freise, & Peak Oil

It would seem like a literary device, if it weren't something you can see half a dozen blocks from here, at the corner of Cedar Avenue and 35th Street: One of Minneapolis' many potholes, this one revealing the original brick paving and a rail from the 60 year-defunct trolley system.

A week ago I interviewed neighbor Jon Freise for the neighborhood newspaper, Corcoran News. I had heard Jon present an explanation of peak oil at the Corcoran Park building in February, and was eager to include him in my series of portraits of interesting neighbors. (Jon told me about the pothole; it's by his house.)

During our conversation, I quoted Wes Jackson to Jon as having said that those of us who conserve are making it easier for the profligate by not bidding against them in the de facto energy auction. Jon thought about this for a while, and responded that it's an accurate observation, but the rich bastards are not the only ones who need cheap oil. Operations that feed the elderly and the sick, people who have to get to work where there's no public transportation, and energy-intensive services upon which even the most conservative among us rely are examples of functions that we would not want to bid against.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Trying to Draw Like Al Hirschfeld

CD cover for my friend Lisa, designed by Dawn Yema, drawings by me. I'd been sketching Lisa while she performed for a few years, and turned a decent likeness into a caricature under the influendce of Al Hirschfeld. The drawings of the other artists are mostly from photos. The exception is Linda Tennyson, the bassist behind Lisa's elbow.

Hirschfeld, born in 1903, was the NY Times Drama Caricaturist. He died, still drawing, five months shy of his hundredth birthday. Of course the fellow with the white whiskers and the eyebrows is the artist in self portrait. The sketchier stuff is Hirschfeld, studying Tom Courtenay. Hirschfeld would attend opening night, sit on the aisle, and take notes or draw in a personal shorthand in his pocket. I've seen a video of the ninety-nine year old Hirschfeld working on a finished drawing of Paul Newman as the Narrator/Stage Manager in Our Town. The Tom Courtenay studies are instructive, but I'd give a lot to see some of the pocket drawings.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Lou Gottlieb

                         The Folksinger  Who Hosted a Commune

The idea of communes "working," flourishing, succeeding is always brought up, but this is beside the point in the case of the communes now existing in America. What is essential is to expose ourselves to a life of voluntary poverty, or life for minimal cost, and a life of sharing...because this is what it is, alone, that makes the commune endeavor an important thing in America.

                                                                 Elia Katz, quoted by Lou Gottlieb

It's a lucky child that has a chance to be reared in an intentional community

                                                                Lou Gottlieb

 Lou Gottlieb was born to immigrant parents in 1923, Jewish name, Catholic upbringing. (During his second LSD experience, he huddled in a closet and chanted Luke 1:31, "Fear not, Mary," mantra-like in Latin.) He played piano, oboe, and bass fiddle, and started college at 16. During the War, the Army Band, stationed at the Army War College, was shipped overseas. The College still wanted a band, and Gottlieb played bass in the replacement band. After the War, Gottlieb finished his education, played in jazz bands and a folk group, the Gateway Singers. He received a PhD in musicology in 1958, transposing fifteenth century masses into modern notation for his dissertation.

Post-doc, Lou continued to gig, and made a serious attempt at stand-up comedy, becoming friends with Lenny Bruce and Don Adams. He arranged tunes for the Kingston Trio, and enlisted vocalists Alex Hasselev and Glenn Yarbrough to help record a demo of his arrangements. Gottlieb, Hasselev, and Yarbrough began to tour as the Limeliters, and formed the nucleus of the ABC television folk hour, Hootenanny, with Lou arranging, playing bass, and wisecracking with the audience.

In 1962, the Limeliters took a break after walking away from a plane crash. Lou bought thirty-two acres of meadow orchard and redwoods, a former chicken ranch just north of the San Francisco Bay, with the idea of subdividing it. At the same time he was investigating yoga, Indian religion, and psychedelics. Lou and friends, Ramon Sender and Stewart Brand would visit the property to horse around. Lou moved his piano into a converted chicken shed, meaning to commit a program of classical music to memory.

In 1966 the San Francisco Diggers, accepting the responsibility for feeding the tide of young visitors to Haight Street, asked Lou if they could tend the orchard and start a garden. Somebody put up a sign inviting hippies to visit the "Digger Farm," and Lou Gottlieb's Morningstar Ranch became ground zero for the hippie commune movement. Between then and 1972, something like fifteen hundred people passed through Morningstar, some for a day, some years. Lou attended seven hippie births, and thought he had been an obstetrician or midwife in a former life.

Lou came to see "open land" as a necessity and way of ameliorating the human condition. Social wealth and automation were making some people "technologically unemployable," and some people were simply "impossibles," people whose need for leisure is more demanding than their fear of starvation. There need to be places where anybody may go, outlaw places where the impossibles are free to take their chances being impossible. Late in life, Lou said -- only half facetiously -- that this is the idea for which he should receive a Nobel Prize.

Culture shock and, we must surmise, a certain hippie fecklessness alienated Morningstar's neighbors. Over the commune's half-dozen years, petitioners and Sonoma County officials angled to evict visitors. At one point, Lou deeded the property to God. He paid $15, 000 in fines and did fifteen days in jail for contempt. Finally the county bulldozed the hippie shacks, the Morningstar adventure having cost Lou something like seven hundred thousand 2011 dollars.

The Limeliters re-formed, and Lou continued to make periodic attempts at working up a classical performance. He also continued to propose that society set aside remote sites where anybody could squat.

Lou died in 1996, diabetes having masked a malignancy until two or three weeks before the end. He faced imminent death with grace and humor.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Wes Jackson

The Kansas Farm Boy Who's Breeding an Edible Prairie

Extractive economy simply means an economy based on depletion, deficit spending of the Earth's ecological capital.

                                                                                          Wes Jackson

Wes Jackson was born in 1936 on a farm near Topeka, Kansas. He would have been learning long division and joining the 4H while WWII was rushing to its bloody close, receiving his BS in Biology while cars still had tail fins, his MS in Botany at the Cold War's suspenseful height, and a PhD in Genetics when American citizens were beginning to realize foreign policy could be mistaken. Jackson chaired one of America's first Environmental Studies programs, at California State University in Sacramento, then returned to Kansas to found the Land Institute.

Some plants, annuals, live for one season, others, perennials, for several. In nature perennials, in mixtures, dominate.  Agriculture has reversed this, and we grow acres of nothing but one or another annual (chiefly just four, rice, wheat, corn, and soy), sprawling beyond the horizon. The Land Institute is trying to get back to nature by breeding perennial versions of corn, sorghum, sunflower, and wheat, and growing them together. They are also  domesticating food-producing wild perennials. This strategy saves soil and energy, because plants growing deep roots over many seasons won't require tilling, and will have greater access to minerals and water, and because mixtures of plants will be less vulnerable to diseases and pests.

Jackson describes himself not as optimistic, but hopeful.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The-Bigger-The-Belt-Buckle Department

One of Barbara's and my favorite novels is Booth Tarkington's The Magnificent Ambersons, published in 1918. It's a midwestern story to the bone, the story of an Indiana city, the story of a family of magnificent privilege, the story of the nineteenth century's yielding to the twentieth, the automobile, and the beginnings of urban sprawl. The identity figure for all this change is Georgie Minafer -- the least sympathetic identity figure in western literature -- the grandson of the Amberson who made the family fortune, and one volcanically self absorbed fool and petty tyrant.

George's rudeness and presumption have  been so outrageous from the cradle -- and have reflected his elders' own secret attitudes -- that the family fondly indulges them. In the end, Georgie finds grace, love, and forgiveness, but not before ending his widowed mother Isabel's chances for reunion with the great love of her life, Eugene Morgan, an automobile manufacturer.

In a dinner table conversation George embarrasses himself and his family by loudly telling Eugene that "Automobiles are a useless nuisance" that should never have been invented. His grandfather corrects him, but George persists and speaks facetiously.

Then Eugene began to laugh cheerfully.

"I'm not sure he's wrong about automobiles," he said. "With all their speed forward, they may be a step backwards in civilization. -- that is in spiritual civilization. It may be that they will not add to the beauty of the world, nor to the life of men's souls. I am not sure. But automobiles have come, and they bring a greater change in our life than I think most of us suspect. They are here, and almost all outward things are going to be different because of what they bring."

Written in 1918! The irony is that the automobile maker can articulate this, while Georgie is just bristling at vaguely perceived threats to unearned privilege -- and trying to injure his mother's suitor.

There have been three films of The Magnificent Ambersons: a 1925 silent adaptation of a book that has a lot of speeches, the 1942 Orson Welles classic which was as faithful to the original as a movie can be to a novel, but was severely edited by the RKO brass, the deleted scenes destroyed, and a 2002 A&E version directed by Alfonso Arau, using Welles' script. The Arau Ambersons looks and sounds the more  midwestern to my Illinois-bred eyes and ears, despite Arau's Mexican birth, and despite his shooting it in Ireland. Its one false note plays over and over in a series of sensuous caresses and lingering kisses between Georgie and Isabel. Tarkington couldn't have failed to know about Freud, but probably had very little patience with the idea of Oedipus complexes. George Minafer would have objected to losing centrality in any of his family's lives, and been squeamish at Isabel's sexuality.

Safe driving tip of the day: Minnesota DMV wants you to keep three seconds between yourself and the car ahead of you. You can do this by counting the seconds between the time when the other car's rear bumper passes a landmark, and when your front bumper reaches it.

But how do you help somebody you pass keep his distance from you? To help a slower driver maintain his or her interval, if the other car is going sixty, count thirty-six seconds from when your rear bumper is even with the other car's front bumper before you pull back into the right lane. To pass somebody going seventy, count forty-two seconds. This assumes you're going 5 MPH faster than the other driver.

Scary when you compare that to what we really do.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

World War Robot

 A day of battle is a day of profit.

                                       Darwin Rothschild

I found Ashley Wood's and T. P. Louise's World War Robot ( at Minneapolis' East Lake Library. It is the story of the war between expat atheists living on Mars and believers who stayed on Earth. It's told sparingly in a series of letters, reports, and diary entries, and especially in about seventy very juicy paintings. The pictures were what grabbed me.

The James Cameron Terminator movies, The Terminator and Judgment Day, are food for thought. Out-of-control robots from the future can stand for lots of human creations which have become dangerous to us. Think DDT, think the private automobile, but think especially about Earth's new dominant life form, the corporation.

Corporations were originally chartered with the idea of human or national progress. Since they are legally obliged to return a profit and little else, when faced with a choice between making a dime and sparing the commons, they won't know it was loaded.

In the story of the war between Earth and Mars, the corporate face of the enemy is more apparent than in the Terminator films. I could never decide whether WWR's authors were on the side of the believers or the non-believers (or which side was in which paintings), but supplying both armies with robots from the Moon is a guy named Darwin Rothschild.

In itty-bitty letters under the bar code, it says that WWR is "suggested for mature audiences." I'll go along with that; the book is pretty grim, but the warning is probably there because of a glimpse in one painting of a military brothel, and of pubic hair. Sordid, but not exactly titillating.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Buckminster Fuller

It was never my intention to design the geodesic dome. I wanted to discover the principles at work in our universe. I could have ended up with a pair of flying slippers.

                                                             Buckminster Fuller

Richrd Buckminster Fuller remains the most fascinating member of the World War I generation. A business failure and grieving father at 32, he prepared to drown himself. It came to him that he was the product of the things he learned from everyone he knew, and from a chain of people going back to humanity's beginning, so his life was not his own to throw away. Since he had been planning to die, Fuller -- or "Bucky" as he liked to be called -- decided to comit "egocide" instead, and live dedicated to the desires of the universe and the betterment of all people.

For Bucky, humanity was going through its final exam, pass-or-fail, utopia or oblivion. He decided that it would be easier to reform the environment than people, who -- mistakenly -- believe that the world holds too few resources to let us all survive peacefully. His career was one of invention, and he died holding twenty-eight patents for devices to house and serve us better than ever, using less material and energy. He also published over thirty books. Fuller's inventions include a new geometry, a high-mileage-for-its-time car which could turn 360 degrees inside its own radius, and the geodesic dome, a structure which can cover unlimited area without any internal columns or load-bearing walls.

Toward the end of a long, productive life, Buckminster Fuller called us "four billion billionaires who are entirely unaware of their good fortune."

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Steven Leblanc

If we do not strive to understand what we have done in the past and why, it will only make it harder to get it right in the future.

                                                                            Steven LeBlanc

Archeologist Steven LeBlanc was born in 1943, the same year as Jim Morrison, romance and mystery novelist Janet Evanovich, and Newt Gingrich. He is the director of collections at the Peabody Museum of Archeology and Ethnology at Harvard University, and an expert on the Mimbres Culture of southwestern New Mexico.

In 2003's Constant Battles, LeBlanc and his wife and co-author Katherine Register make the case that ecological imbalance causes human warfare. People deforest or overgraze the places where we live, or breed beyond our environments' carrying capacities, then try to expand our territories by invasion. There has never been an Edenic time in which we were at peace with our environment or each other. LeBlanc's case for this includes the way ancient people sited their villages, ancient skeletons damaged by violence, anecdotes related to early European settlers by native Americans, and the behavior of other primates and remaining "stone age" farmers.

Monday, March 14, 2011


I saw pictures of the devastation on Japan's east coast, and thought we don't need global warming to make us  do the right things. The earth or the sea or the wind can well up in no time, and break our necks. Or our hearts. That could be my house or shop that the flood uprooted and dragged down the street. Planning for sure, but most important are humility and kindness.

I painted the copy of Katshushika Hokusai's Great Wave, with a diagram of four tetrahedrons arrayed to form one larger tetrahedron and enclose an octahedron, twenty-five or thirty years ago. I was into Buckminster Fuller and Hokusai both then.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Betty Edwards

The left hemisphere has no patience with this detailed perception, and says, in effect, "It's a chair, I tell you. That's enough to know. In fact, don't bother to look at it, because I've got a ready-made symbol for you. Here it is; add a few details if you want, but don't bother me with this looking business."

                                                                          Betty Edwards

Art educator, Betty Edwards was born in 1926, roughly contemporary with Pop artists like Andy Warhol, not to mention cartoonist and Mad Magazine founder Harvey Kurtzman. She graduated from UCLA in 1947, and would have crossed paths there with the first vets returning to college from Europe and the Pacific on the GI Bill.

Edwards is the author of the standard drawing instruction book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Drawing's thesis is that, while language and analysis are functions of our brains' left hemispheres, good drawing is done by the right hemisphere. Our untrained impulse is to use symbols -- circles for eyes, upside-down sevens for noses -- to represent things, but to represent them well, we need to draw what we see, not what we "know" is there. Edwards provides exercises to train us to do just that.

All very interesting, and useful if drawing's your thing, but of no wider consequence. our moment of history we're encountering entirely novel challenges, with stakes never higher. And we're digging in to meet them, believing we already know all the answers. We get to make mistakes (I drew Edward's mouth more widely open than it is in the photograph, and with a fuller lower lip), but we have to try to draw what we see, not what we know is there.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Frances Moore Lappe

My whole mission in life is to help us find the power we lack to create the world we want.

                                                                          Frances Moore Lappe

Frances Moore Lappe was born early in 1944, when the Allies were beginning to organize the Normandy Invasion, and Allied troops were still bogged down at Anzio. She came to prominence in 1971 with the publication of her best selling book, Diet for a Small Planet, in which she made the case that livestock require many times the protein, in the form of legumes and grains, than they yield, and that it would be more economical for the world to consume the corn and beans directly. (Lappe included nutritional information to assure that readers who changed their diets would get enough protein, and recipes for the unfamiliar new ingredients.)

With co-author Joseph Collins, Lappe followed Diet with World Hunger (Ten Myths), then expanded Ten Myths into Food First, in which she and Collins posed and answered fifty questions which mostly represented misconceptions about hunger and how it might be conquered. The misconceptions include the notion that there are too little arable land and too many people. With copious references, Food First shows that landowning elites make hunger inevitable by planting luxury crops and commodities for export (sugar, coffee, cocoa, beef, corn for ethanol) instead of the crops that would feed local sharecroppers and farm laborers. The book finishes with recommendations for American readers concerned about world hunger:

Don't accept conventional wisdom, be empirical about hunger, and communicate your understanding; work for our own food self reliance; work for American land reform (for instance by changing tax laws so that heirs don't have to sell the farm to pay onerous taxes); eliminate American support for corporations and governments whose agricultural policies starve people.

Lappe has gone on to write and advocate for democracy and justice. She advocates for what she calls "living democracy" as opposed to "thin democracy." The difference is that  thin democracy is limited to elections and supporting candidates -- the democracy of consumers -- while living democracy is a way of behaving -- the democracy of doers. It happens in our culture and at work. Living democracy is an "enlivening culture in which the values of inclusion, fairness, and mutual, accountability show up in a wide range of human relationships."

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Tuesday Night's Drawings & Gossip

Drawings of Jill from Tuesday night's drawing group. Two-minute drawings, fifteens, and twenties.

Kathy was missing, on retreat with her husband on the family farm, up north. The gossip was that Kathy's husband, an engineer -- of a certain age -- for a German multinational, had been laid off. The company has been moving work from Minnesota to India for some time, and Rick had been able to stay on board until now.

The tribe has claims on its members. In hard times, you share the hardship. In a pinch you work long hours. If it comes to that, you walk the Trail of Tears. Employers usurp the tribe's prerogatives, but aren't bound by the tribe's bond with its member. Work is your life, the biggest single hunk of your precious, finite life. Your colleagues are who you know, your friends. But if the bastards get tired of you, or can get a better offer from some other poor son of a bitch, kiss your friends goodbye. (The "bastards" aren't necessarily wicked. They're clinging for survival to what Paul Hawken calls the planets "new dominant life form.")

In a world that lives on its capital, the irreplaceable stuff we dig or pump out of the ground, nobody's creating wealth. Rick's employer is just a gatekeeper, and so is yours, trying to corner as much as it can of the wealth that belongs to all of us, Americans, Europeans, Asians, Africans,  Australians, naked Amazonians with bows and arrows. If you can get hired and you cooperate, they'll dole a little of it out to you every two weeks.

It isn't just the money that matters. It's the ownership, the position, the power. Humans are creative, each of us a born genius. Employers train it out of us, beginning with their proxies, the schools. You have to work, and you're incredibly, ninety-ninth percentile,  lucky if your job exercises your kind of genius. If you jump ship, try finding capital for your brilliant idea. Guess who has it. Humans don't need corporations.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Rachel Carson

We stand now where two roads diverge. But unlike the roads in Robert Frost's familiar poem, they are not equally fair. The road we have long been traveling is deceptively easy, a smooth superhighway on which we progress at great speed, but at its end lies disaster. The other fork of the road -- the one less traveled by -- offers our last, our only chance to reach a destination that assures the preservation of the earth.

                                                                              Rachel Carson

Rachel Carson was born to a farming family in western Pennsylvania in 1907, and died in 1964. There was never an election in her adult life in which she was ineligible to vote, and she was old enough to have been glad when the United States ratified the Nineteenth Amendment. She was the smartest kid in her class, and enjoyed nature and literature. Her college graduated her with honors, but she delayed graduate school because of family financial difficulties. Carson did receive a master's degree in zoology from John Hopkins, but further financial difficulties, including her father's death kept her from continuing.

Carson went to work for the Bureau of Fisheries, and wrote and edited  Fisheries publications and radio broadcasts. She went on to write for newspapers and The Atlantic Monthly, and published a trilogy of books about the ocean, Under Sea and Wind, The Sea around Us, and The Edge of the Sea.

We remember Rachel Carson for her 1962 book, Silent Spring, which is one source for the environmental movement. Silent Spring documented pesticide -- particularly DDT -- damage to the environment. Bald eagles, which are fairly common now, were once threatened with extinction because pesticides, concentrating at the higher end of the food chain, made eagle eggs fragile. Carson took a lot of heat, particularly from the chemical industry,

The chief criticism of Carson and Silent Spring was that banning DDT would condemn people in the tropics to death from malaria, although Carson had argued for study and judicious use, rather than  abandonment. The criticism continues half a century later, although a lot of that time has been spent trying to understand relationships and context, the workings of systems. Carson should be remembered as a pioneer in systematic thinking about problems, in a time of pure purposiveness.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Warming Up For Rachel Carson

I've heard and read artists and illustrators who can draw from life crowing about people who use photographic references. I'm here to tell you drawing from life and drawing from pictures are separate -- if related -- skills. My study of Rachel Carson for my Faces of Wisdom series, has given me fits. I just don't know how to draw from pictures. Picking up that skill is one point of the series.

There was an earlier study that I didn't include in this post. It used a different source photo, and was even further from being a likeness than the top drawing. The story of the drawings you see here is this:

Pencil underdrawing for the top study. It's interesting that I didn't realize how far from a likeness it was until I'd inked it. My hypothesis explaining that is that getting a likeness and recognizing one probably use different parts of the brain, parts that don't work at the same time. Okay, I said, if I'm not getting it, I'll use a crutch, and maybe learn something from the crutch. The crutch was a pair of compass dividers and a ruler. The grid or diagram you see below and to the right of the face is the measured layout for the final drawing, and you can see how I took the measurements on the source photo of Rachel Carson. Next you see me thinking out loud, below some quotes from Rob Hopkins. Next the measured layout for the final drawing. Then a quick try with a similar layout. Finally the pencil underdrawing for the finished product.

Tomorrow, Rachel Carson.

If you want to see some really great drawings from photographs, take a look at my friend Julie Rathmann's website.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Hazel Henderson

What I have been trying to do for 20 years is to change the debate about development and move it outside of the box marked "economics."...Trying to run an economy using only such economic indicators as the gross national product is rather like trying to fly a Boeing 747 with a single oil pressure gauge. What we need to do is fill out the instrument panel.

Hazel Henderson (in a 1988 interview)

Hazel Henderson is a British-born (1933) American citizen who is concerned with how the technological changes of our time alter how we live. Some of the alterations are pernicious, but some are merely confusing. For instance, academia business and government are adapted to analysis and reductionism -- to things instead of relationships -- but our understanding of the world increasingly demands synthesis. Henderson is essentially conservative, but according to the perversity of our time, any "conservatives" who even know her name would know that she believes economics is subsumed by ecology, and think of her as as leftist.

Henderson believes that industrialism and free-market economics represent a brief anomaly in human history. She rejects the belief that human well being demands technological progress. Simultaneously experiencing a more global understanding of existence and the limits of industrialism shocks us and seems paradoxical. Increased technological complexity makes laissez-faire economics unworkable and makes democracy difficult, because none of the players -- you, me, Obama, the Tea Partiers, al Quaeda -- has enough information to make intelligent analyses. She sees alternative movements forming to replace the dominant economic model -- alternative publishing, cooperatives, renewable energy, etc.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Rob Hopkins

Change need not be a hair shirt exercise. It can be something which is exhilarating, has a feel of being a historic process, a collective call to adventure. What Transition is about is unlocking the collective genius of the community.

                                        Rob Hopkins

Without cheap oil you wouldn't be reading this book now.

                                        Rob Hopkins

Rob Hopkins was born in London in tumultuous 1968, the year of Prague Spring, the beginning of Ulster's "Troubles," and rioting assassination and abdication in the United States. He came of age with the collapse of the Soviet Empire. He is the author of the Transition movement, an effort to deal with the end of cheap fossil fuels by cultivating resilience in communities.

 The idea of the Transition Movement is that peak oil, global warming, and various other serious challenges will inevitably change the global economy, and that the best way to affect the nature of that change is locally, by strengthening communities. Specifics necessarily come from individual communities, but some strategies are:

* Community gardens;

* Learning skills that we have largely abandoned because of abundant high-quality fuel;

* 100% recycling;

* Obtaining supplies locally;

* Getting to know our neighbors;

* Local currencies.

Many in the movement believe that living post-peak will be more fulfilling and enjoyable than the alienation and stress of the consumer economy.

In 2005 Transition came out of a class project in 2005 when Hopkins was a permaculture instructor at the Kinsale Further Education College in Kinsale, Ireland. He went on to co-found Transition Town Totnes in Totnes, Devon, England, and to publish The Transition Handbook. He gardens in Totnes and blogs at

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

M. King Hubbert

In terms of human history, the episode of fossil fuels is a very brief epoch.

                                                                       M. King Hubbert

Marion King Hubbert was a geologist whose life spanned from the year the Wright Brothers first flew at Kitty Hawk to the collapse of the Soviet Union. A native Texan, Hubbert received his BS, MS, and PhD from the University of Chicago, and worked for Shell Oil from 1943 until 1964, was a research geophysicist for the US Geological Survey, and taught at Columbia University, Stanford, and UC Berkeley.

In 1956, Hubbert ssuggested that production in a geographic area -- ranging from a single oil field to the planet -- will follow a bell curve, and predicted that production in the United States would peak around 1970, which proved to be the case. Later he predicted a global peak around 1995, a little earlier than what happend, but close. The so-called Hubbert Curve is based on historical trends rather than estimates of reserves and consumption. Subsequent researchers have found similar curves in fisheries.

Hubbert also showed that rock in the Earth's crust is plastic -- it changes shape under pressure -- and formulated the correct statement for Darcy's Law, which describes the relationship between the rate flow of a fluid through a permeable medium and permeability, area, pressure drop, viscosity, and length.

He was a Technocrat, a founder of a Depression-era movement that advocated that scientists and engineers, not politicians, coordinate the economy. Hubbert believed in an economy in which goods and services were priced according to the energy consumed in their production.

Drawing Method

I'm trying, with intermittent success, to make a concentrated effort with my drawing. I'm working on a series of forty or so portraits of people who have been sources for the ideas that make up my worldview, the "Faces of Wisdom Series" ten or so of which I've already published.

Above: three scans to demonstrate my method, a photograph of geologist M. King Hubbert, a pencil copy of the photo, and the beginning lines of the ink rendering. Besides the chance to personify ideas I wish were more common in society, what I get from this series is practice at catching proportions, a skill I need to work on, and practice making clean and meaningful lines with a fairly shaky hand. And, I'm learning a lot about the relief of the human face by making the lines I shade with wrap around the forms.

The real surprise is that drawing from photos is harder for me than drawing from life. I never make pencil under-drawings when I draw from life. I've used snapshots of subjects for my newspaper profiles, to spare my subjects the tiresome chore of sitting still for half an hour or more, but it takes a lot longer for me to get things right. Hubbert's head, for instance, started out about the length of his hair longer, and it still looks a little tall.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Dorothy Day

First of all, let it be remembered that I speak as an ex-Communist and one who has not testified before Congressional Committees, nor written works on the Communist conspiracy.

                                                   Dorothy Day

Knitting is very conducive to thought. It is nice to knit a while, put down the needles, write a while, then take up the sock again. 

                                                  Dorothy Day

I believe that we must reach our brother, never toning down our fundamental oppositions, but meeting him when he asks to be met, with a reason for the faith that is in us, as well as with a loving sympathy for them as brothers.  

                                                 Dorothy Day

The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us? 

                                                 Dorothy Day 

We believe in loving our brothers regardless of race, color or creed and we believe in showing this love by working for better conditions immediately and the ultimate owning by the workers of their means of production. 

                                                 Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day was born in 1897, and lived until 1980. She was an atheist and a Communist who converted to Catholicism in 1927, and who founded the Catholic Worker movement. The Catholic Workers are pacifist servants of the poor, self-reliant, and adamant opponents of big government and big business. Day was a (Federal) tax protester, and was arrested repeatedly for ignoring nuclear air raid drills in New York City. She opposed all the American wars of her lifetime. She was a distributist, a believer in a "third way" -- between capitalism and socialism -- in which land and machinery are owned by those who use them, as opposed to business or state ownership and largesse.

The Vatican has allowed the Archdiocese of New York to open Dorothy Day's case for canonization. My understanding of canonization is that in declaring a person a saint the church recognizes the force of God's grace in her. It's easy to believe that the integrity of Day's Christian life was too strong for religious bureaucrats ever to acknowledge. (In fact, people called Day a saint during her life. She said she didn't want to be dismissed so easily.)

This non-believer recognizes something that we might call sainthood in Day, though. She has become for me the focus for an unresolved personal controversy: As near as we are to the limits of Earth's carrying capacity, can we afford to meet in loving sympathy with sincere wrongdoers and call them brothers? Steven LeBlanc and Garrett Hardin make my case for force.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Wealth, Slavery, And Tuberculosis

John C. Calhoun died of tuberculosis in 1850. TB was shown to be contagious in 1869, and the responsible bacterium identified in 1882. Quarantining infected people reduced the incidence of the disease, and a vaccine was first used on humans in 1921. Streptomycin, developed in 1944, and subsequent antibiotics, Isoniazid and Rifampin improved results and hastened recovery.

Calhoun said, "I hold then, that there never has yet existed a wealthy and civilized society in which one portion of the community did not, in point of fact, live on the labor of the other." Six years after his death, Edwin Drake drilled the first oil well near Titusville, Pennsylvania. In the subsequent century and a half, fossil wealth, and the technology it allowed, more than replaced the emancipated slaves.  High quality fuels and powerful technology have fed more people, made more comfortable, and spared more from disease than Calhoun could have imagined. We can condescendingly understand his apology for slavery as coming from someone without our advantages.

And yet, at this moment of peak human wealth, some of us still live on the labor of others, people starve, and we foul our planetary nest. Frightening, when you think that we are near the limits of growth, and must soon do better with less. Absent an unprecedented technological save -- or saves -- we can expect relative impoverishment, post peak. We can't bathe in the same river twice, so slavery as Calhoun understood it probably isn't in our future, but we must anticipate that decreased wealth will tempt us, or our descendants, to thrive at each other's expense, and plan to avoid it.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Donella Meadows

Your paradigm is so intrinsic to your mental process that you are hardly aware of its existence, until you try to communicate with someone with a different paradigm.

Donella Meadows

Donella Meadows lived from 1941 until 2001. She studied Chemistry as an undergraduate at Carleton College, and received a doctorate in Biophysics from Harvard. She went as a researcher to MIT, and worked there with Jay Forrester, the inventor of magnetic data storage, in the early days of computer modeling.

In 1972, Meadows published the book The Limits to Growth with her husband, Dennis Meadows, as well as Jorgen Randers and William Behrens. The book was a report to a private group, the Club of Rome, that is interested in challenges facing all of humanity. Limits modeled the consequences of a rapidly growing world population using finite resources, and predicted economic behavior.

Limits' conclusions indicated that humanity's situation is perilous. It has been criticized by commentators of widely ranging sincerity and understanding, and twenty- and thirty-year updates have been published.

The thing to take away from Limits and from Donella Meadows, though, is a way of thinking. For instance, predicting how long a resource, say oil, will last takes more than just dividing known reserves by barrels per year. Modelers need to predict discoveries of new reserves, relative difficulty of getting existing and predicted reserves, increases in population and industrialization, and changes in consumption due to new technologies. Good citizenship may not require fluency with modeling these variables, but it does demand that we know they are there and how they interact.

Meadows' Places to Intervene in a System is probably her best know paper (about two thousand words). It is available as a PDF at,

As html at,

in the Winter, 1997 Whole Earth Review, in her posthumous book Thinking in Systems: A Primer, and outlined at Wikipedia. She wrote a syndicated column, Voice of a Global Citizen, which is archived at

Monday, January 17, 2011

John C. Calhoun

I hold that in the present state of civilization, where two races of different origin, and distinguished by color, and other physical differences, as well as intellectual, are brought together, the relation now existing in the slaveholding States between the two, is, instead of an evil, a good—a positive good.

I hold then, that there never has yet existed a wealthy and civilized society in which one portion of the community did not, in point of fact, live on the labor of the other.

                                                John C. Calhoun 

I wanted to begin this post with something like "John Caldwell Calhoun is my favorite villain from American history, villain because he believed that slavery was a positive good, favorite because he understood, unlike most of his contemporaries and ours, that the wealthy always live on the labor of others." Calhoun was deeper than a simple-minded cracker insisting on racial prerogatives.

Calhoun lived from 1782 until 1850. (Delegates to the Continental Congress signed the Declaration of Independence in 1776, and Cornwallis surrendered in 1781, but British troops remained in America until late in 1783. The War between the States began in 1861.) He represented South Carolina's 6th District in Congress from 1811 until 1817, served as Monroe's Secretary of War, Vice President for Presidents John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, and as Senator from South Carolina from 1832 until 1843, and then from 1845 until his death. He was also John Tyler's Secretary of State, was eager for the War of 1812, and founded the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Although he was only born late in the Revolution, we can see Calhoun as one of the founders. He began as a nationalist and advocated for public works like roads, canals, harbors, and for a national bank, and for tariffs to pay for improvements, and to protect the nation's infant economy. As the country grew, he came to see these same institutions enriching the northern states at the expense of the South. His mature positions -- nullification, concurrent majority, and expansion -- come from a need to defend his home. In the same 1837 speech I've quoted, Calhoun says apparently without irony, "...encroachments must be met at the beginning, and that those who act on the opposite principle are prepared to become slaves." He's speaking specifically about abolition -- although the hypothetical slaves mentioned would be southern planters. But abolition is a just a special case of federal policy designed to favor the North.

Calhoun seems to have believed, with evidence, that humans will seek their individual survival and advantage, at each others costs, and that our duty is to protect ourselves. Defense requires security and resources seized from other hands.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Monday Night Drawing And James Lovelock

My live drawing has been in a slump. It's been hard for me to keep my proportions straight, and it's mystified me. I thought I knew how to do this. When this drawing started coming together Monday, it was like the spell had broken.

Thinking about James Lovelock, after drawing his portrait a few days ago, I kept remembering his notion that we're experiencing a Gaian immune response, and before too long those of us still on the scene will be too busy surviving to do much else -- like draw pictures or blog about them. Lovelock thinks that climate change due to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide levels, and positive feedbacks like methane released from thawed permafrost have gone too far for civilization to continue as we know it.

I'd misplaced my copy of Lovelock's 1979 Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth, so I refreshed my memory by noodling around on line. Among other things, I found this video:

Lovelock's 90, so I cross my fingers and hope that his pessimism is an instance of the world's seeming old to an old man.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Paul Hawken

We cannot turn back the clock or return to any prior state on the planet, but we will never know ourselves until we know where we are on the land. There is no reason we cannot build an exquisitely designed economy that matches biology in its diversity and integrates complexity rather than extinguishing it.

                                                                     Paul Hawken

Paul Hawken was born in California in 1946, and attended UC Berkely  and San Francisco State without taking a degree. He was active in the civil rights movement of the 1960s, and was Martin Luther King's press coordinator for the Selma march, and staff photographer for the Congress of Racial Equality in Louisiana.

Hawken turned a Boston health food store into a national natural foods brand, Erewhon Foods, and co-founded Smith & Hawken, manufacturer of quality garden tools. These days he heads One Sun LLC, an energy company that works with biomimicry, and Highwater Global, an equity fund that invests in companies working to solve environmental challenges. He is the author of a number of books, including The Next Economy, which came out of essays about economics written in the mid-eighties for CoEvolution Quarterly and interviews with Stewart Brand. Other titles include Natural Capitalism, How to Grow a Business, and The Ecology of Commerce. He has collaborated with Amory and Hunter Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute.

Paul Hawken's current book is Blessed Unrest: How the Largest Social Movement in History is Restoring Grace, Justice, and Beauty to the World. Blessed Unrest describes a movement made of thousands or millions of non-profits acting for the environment, the rights of indigenous peoples, and social justice. It describes this movement as a worldwide social immune system.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

James Lovelock

I realized it was life that looked after the climate and the atmosphere.

                                                                         James Lovelock

James Lovelock was born in 1919 in the English county of Hertfordshire. He was a conscientious objector at the beginning of World War II, but Nazi atrocities convinced him to enlist. The military turned him down because he was engaged in medical research. He is the inventor of the electron capture detector, which can detect CFCs or pesticides in quantities as low a one part per trillion.

In the 1960s Lovelock was working for NASA, developing ways to detect life on other planets. He reasoned that chemical reactions would have stopped in the atmospheres of planets without life. This is the case on Mars and Venus, planets NASA thought might have life. Earth has lots of reactions in the atmosphere. For instance, methane and oxygen are constantly reacting in the air. But the composition of our atmosphere remains constant.

This was the beginning of Lovelock's "Gaia Hypothesis." (Say Guy-uh) Gases like oxygen and methane come from living things, so living things must be regulating their relative amounts. Beyond this, the Gaia Hypothesis says that life actively controls the temperature and composition of the Earth's atmosphere, and other parts of the Earth's surface. If the temperature or the atmospheric composition is disturbed, life will correct it by changes in the ecosystem. The climate, the air, the rocks, the ocean, and life are a single system.