Niall McKay has a clever new video on carbon offsets, called Skateboarding for a Cooler World. It raises a few more questions than it can answer about the pollution-fighting capability of these, but it is a good quick look at some of the organizations offering these, what they cost, where the money goes and what some of the outstanding issues are.
Archive for April, 2007
I went to New York last week to accept my writing award from the American Society of Journalists and Authors. I won for Grand Plans, a piece I’d written for the Boston Globe Magazine last October on the rebirth of American pianomaker Mason & Hamlin.
There were a number of other excellent pieces that received awards, including an expose on conditions in the gold mining industry by my friend Jonathan Green, and one on the founder of the Curves fitness chain by my friend and fellow Inc. magazine contributing editor Alison Stein Wellner. The ASJA awards list also included several books.
It was a treat to get to stand up and say a few words, and to be able to have several friends in the audience that I could acknowledge for their support over the past few years. Without them, I’m not sure I would still be writing.
My latest Prototype column in the New York Times, To Find the Danger, This Software Poses As The Bad Guys, looks at some efforts to build automated hacking tools, in hopes that they might help reduce the number of opportunities for hackers to break into systems.
L0pht in Transition is a feature I wrote for CSO magazine on the L0pht, a prominent information security research collective in the 1990s. I was interested in them as a symbol for the security industry itself. In addition, I wanted to show something of the hacker as human being, instead of mystery nerd.
So I argue in this piece for CIO magazine.
The New Genesis, a theology of genetic engineering, a 1993 book arguing that theology and genetic engineering need to go hand in hand, that we could not accept a technology such as farming as moral and reject a technology like genetic engineering as immoral. Cole-Turner thinks genetic engineering helps us do God’s work, and there should be a theological discussion of it.
I tend to agree. I think too often we think God prefers Abel to Cain in all things, a notion of conservatism that belies the development of the Bible.
I looked through Barrie Jones’ Life in the Solar System and beyond recently, and was reminded of how much fun it is to learn about the planets, all these vast balls of difference tilting around the sun. I loved thinking about Jupiter as the shield of the system, deflecting or capturing large foreign objects. And he noted that the Moon stabilizes Earth so that the planet doesn’t tilt too much, almost certainly making life as we know it possible.
He talked about life as in essence being complex carbons and liquid water yielding intelligence, in the form of deliberate activity (he also noted that silicon is so abundant it might be a source of some kind of life on planets with hotter environs).
It was fun to think about supernovas populating the universe with the building blocks of life, and lovely to see him cite Star Trek without having tongue too much in cheek.
No real answers about whether we might find life elsewhere in the vast reaches of our galaxy, let alone the universe. But he seems to think the odds are good. I’m reading Life’s Solution by Simon Conway Morris, which seems to believe just the opposite. I’ll post more on that later.
Derek Slater’s post on the Weber Thesis was enlightening , not least because I haven’t read Weber, and it is, as promised, a succinct recap of an element of Weber’s main idea. I followed Derek’s link to Wikipedia on the Weber thesis, which was useful for expanding on the Thesis and its interpretations, and also for noting that Weber, writing at the beginning of the 20th century, thought that the catalyst of Calvinism had long since been forgotten. No longer did people feel called to serve in two kingdoms, heaven and earth. For the most part, if they were capitalists, they just served themselves here on Earth. It would be hard to see Weber arguing otherwise, given the terrible social unrest of Europe in the latter half of the 19th century, starting with the revolutions of 1848, the development of ‘Dickensian’ as a noun and the rise of Marxism and its mantra of social oppression.
I looked up Duncan Forrester’s essay on Luther and Calvin in the History of Political Philosophy (unlike Weber, Forrester put the two great Reformers together as twin catalysts of both religious reformation and political). the notion that there was a call in vocation). Forrester talked little about economics, but note his discussion of the concept of the two Kingdoms, which he notes Calvin and Luther would not have seen as separated into ‘church’ and ’state’ but would have had blurry lines at best. Still, many others since then have interpreted the two kingdoms as being distinct.
Forrester’s essay also discusses Luther and his notion of the ‘hero’ who operated outside the system and improved it. That, at least, seems to be a model for many of today’s business, political and cultural figures, people who all too often think of themselves as heros, though their behavior improves nothing.
Shukan Daiyamondo recently ran my interview with Michael Izady, a historian of the Middle East who teaches at Pace University in New York. Izady and I talked in late February by phone about the situation over there, and what might happen. He was, as one might expect, rather grim about the short term. But he was surprisingly optimistic about America’s role in the Middle East in the longer term, noting that America’s failure in Vietnam did not stop democracy and capitalism from succeeding in other parts of Southeast Asia. In fact, he sees a continuum in American foreign policy since World War II, which has led to capitalist democracies in Western and Eastern Europe, Japan and much of Southeast Asia. That push will continue, he expects. As he put it,
We lost the battle of Vietnam but won the war of Southeast Asia. In the next 10 to 15 years we will see a large wave of democracy in the Middle East. It may seem like we only have one choice, succeed in Iraq or the whole thing will collapse. But not necessarily.
I’ve just finished Fast Food Nation, despite having owned it since it was newly published. In truth, I finally read it because Steve Bigari, a social entrepreneur I wrote about this year, is a former McDonald’s franchisee who told me Schlosser got it all wrong (at least about McDonald’s). That might be true at this point, six years after it was published. But the book is so densely reported that he must have a lot of it right.
In Fast Food Nation, workers are egregiously abused in such casual ways that one hopes the management at Red-state firms like IBP aren’t Christians (if they are, they’re hypocrites). The book enrages in the way that Upton Sinclair’s 1906 meatpacking expose The Jungle did. Schlosser is just as grim as Dos Passos in U.S.A., a trilogy that helps show how and why labor unions were able to form and hold together despite government-condoned acts of violence that are shocking in our milder times, when we prefer killing people with accountants. It becomes clear why market capitalism was under such pressure in the 1930s. (It also becomes clear that one big reason for increased productivity in the U.S. is the decline in alcohol consumption. The amount of destructive drinking that goes on in this and other books from and about the era, including nonfiction books like The Lady and The Panda, makes Prohibition look like a perfectly reasonable policy.)
Of course, both The Jungle and U.S.A. were novels, however realistic (though Dos Passos includes biographical sketches of important political, business and social figures of the day that remain vivid and true.)
Fast Food Nation does not get to that level of writing, but then, Dos Passos was one of the best writers of the 20th century, and truth gets in the way of the vivid conveniences of fiction. There are small things in Schlosser’s book that are irksome – at one point, after Schlosser has gone on at length in exposing frightening practices at the meatpacking industry, he gives them an out by saying “the safety of the food at any restaurant ultimately depends upon the workers in its kitchens.” Huh? (But then, Schlosser really wants the book to be about labor in the fast food business as well as the meatpacking industry). If I were a meatpacker or the fast food industry, I would try to bury him under his own statistics – for all the fast food served in this country, most people don’t die of food-borne illness. That said, I won’t eat hamburger again without thinking twice, just like I don’t drive behind Ford Explorers if I can help it, after reading Tragic Indifference.
At least we’re reporting foodborne illnesses more regularly, as witnessed in the last several months. In contrast, and reminiscent of The Jungle, we’re not really reporting the labor issues. Witness today’s NYT column Thousands are laid off at Circuit City. What’s New?
by David Carr, wondering where all the fuss was after Circuit City dumped its best retail workers.