Thursday, November 26, 2009

Friday, November 20, 2009

Praying for Obama

Apparently these shirts are no longer for sale. It was a nice way for conservative Christians to show their support for President Obama, unless you happened to look up Psalm 109:8.

Which is Greener: Paper or Digital?

The answer may surprise you. From an interview posted on
“Other than pushing the ‘cool’ factor, one of the main selling points being made by marketers of eReaders is that they are greener than print. It is little surprise that the common view held by consumers who don’t know the backstory is that going digital means going green and saving trees. Many are in for a rude awakening. When subjected to ‘cradle-to-cradle’ life cycle analysis, eReading is not nearly as green as many naively assume it is.”

“There is no question that print media could do a better job of managing the sustainability of its supply chains and waste streams, but it’s a misguided notion to assume that digital media is categorically greener. Computers, eReaders, and cell phones don’t grow on trees and their spiraling requirement for energy is unsustainable.”

“Making a computer typically requires the mining and refining of dozens of minerals and metals including gold, silver, and palladium as well as extensive use of plastics and hydrocarbon solvents. To function, digital devices require a constant flow of electrons that predominately come from the combustion of coal, and at the end of their all-too-short useful lives electronics have become the single largest stream of toxic waste created by man. Until recently, there was little, if any, voluntary disclosure of the lifecycle ‘backstory’ of digital media.”

“Sadly, print has come to be seen as a wasteful, inefficient and environmentally destructive medium, despite the fact that much of print media is based on comparatively benign and renewable materials. In addition, print has incredible potential to be a far more sustainable medium than it is today…

I was watching CBS News last night and watched a segment about the hottest toy this Christmas: Zhu Zhu Pets. A small 16 person company in St. Louis came up with the electronic hamster idea and Toys R Us picked it up and they can't keep them on the shelves. So now they are ramping up three more factories - in China, of course - to keep up with demand. If they can get them onto the shelves they are projecting $50,000,000 in sales. Not bad for a 16 person company.

Where were these when our kids were little. We had so many living, breathing, pooping hamsters and dead hamster horror stories. Battery operated ones would have been great.

Everything Is Already Made In China

Nobel Prize winning economist/NYTimes columnist Paul Krugman has been arguing that the Chinese government is severely undervaluing its currency and that this is contributing to the worldwide recession. Krugman says, among other things, that the unbalanced flow of cheap Chinese exports to America would be balanced out with more American goods going to China - if the Chinese currency were fairly priced. I don't pretend to understand all of the economic arguments here, but I was reading a rebuttal in by a Chinese businessman and Forbes contributor Shaun Reign and was amused by this response:
Krugman believes appreciation would allow the Chinese people to buy more American exports. But what American exports? Everything is already made in China. America exported its manufacturing jobs years ago.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Good Housekeeping

Via Rod Dreher I came upon this very good speech by Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams on the economy. Here is a sample:

'Economy' is simply the Greek word for 'housekeeping'. Remembering this is a useful way of getting things in proportion, so that we don't lose sight of the fact that economics is primarily about the decisions we make so as to create a habitat that we can actually live in. We are still haunted by the dogma that the economic world, 'economic realities', economic motivations and so on belong in a completely different frame of reference from the sort of human decisions we usually make and from considerations of how we build a place to live. And to speak about building a place to live, a habitat, reminds us too that we look for an environment that is stable, 'sustainable' in the popular jargon, a home that we can reasonably expect will be an asset for the next generation.

Economics understood in abstraction from all this is not just an academic error: it actually dismantles the walls of the home. Appealing to the market as an independent authority, unconnected with human decisions about 'housekeeping', has meant in many contexts over the last few decades a ruinous legacy for heavily indebted countries, large-scale and costly social disruption even in developed economies; and, most recently, the extraordinary phenomena of a financial trading world in which the marketing of toxic debt became the driver of money-making – until the bluffs were all called at the same time.

If we are not to be caught indefinitely in a trap we have designed for ourselves, we have to ask what an economy would look like if it were genuinely focused on making and sustaining a home – a social environment that offered security for citizens, including those who could not contribute in obvious ways to productive and profit-making business, an environment in which we felt free to forego the tempting fantasies of unlimited growth in exchange for the knowledge that we could hand on to our children and grandchildren a world, a social and material nexus of relations that would go on nourishing proper three-dimensional human beings – people whose family bonds, imaginative lives and capacity for mutual understanding and sympathy were regarded as every bit as important as their material prosperity.

Practically speaking, this means that both at the individual and the national level we have to question what we mean by 'growth'. The ability to produce more and more consumer goods (not to mention financial products) is in itself an entirely mechanical measure of wealth. It sets up the vicious cycle in which it is necessary all the time to create new demand for goods and thus new demands on a limited material environment for energy sources and raw materials. By the hectic inflation of demand it creates personal anxiety and rivalry. By systematically depleting the resources of the planet, it systematically destroys the basis for long-term well-being. In a nutshell, it is investing in the wrong things.

The whole speech given as a keynote address at an economics conference in London is a good read. I must admit that I am somewhat torn on the issue of what kind of economic growth we need. On the one hand I think it is beyond dispute that if the rest of the world grew in the manner that the US economy has grown it would mean the environmental degradation of the planet. On the other hand lots of people are out of work right now including friends of mine. We need some kind of economic growth to put people back to work.

I read lots about small-scale, environmentally friendly, self-sustaining, economic growth and it all sounds very attractive and ethical. I am all for stepping off of the mindless, dispiriting consumer train of endless addictive growth that also despoils the plant. But how a better way gets implemented on a large scale that avoids massive unemployment and dislocation isn't clear to me. On the other (third?) hand, our current way of living is no guarantee that we won't see massive unemployment and dislocation. So maybe it is time to give "another way of living" a try.

Victory Gardens

Last night fellow church member Veda Kanitz and I attended a workshop on community gardens at Dakota Tech. The Dakota County Health Department is making grants available next year to organizations to start or expand community gardens. It is perfect timing for us at Open Circle as a community garden is one of the next phases of our landscaping overhaul at church. I would say based on what I heard last night that we have an excellent chance of getting a grant.

During last night's presentation mention was made of Dowling Community Garden in Minneapolis, one of the few continuing Victory Gardens in the United States. When this was said a man sitting next to me, just slightly younger than me, asked: "what is a Victory Garden?" The older-than-me man sitting on my opposite side replied that he was "too young to know."

Well, I am too young to remember Victory Gardens, but I have been using a Victory Garden Cookbook for more than 20 years, and used to watch the PBS show regularly as we once upon a time had a large vegetable garden.

Victory Gardens were begun during World War I and it is said that during Word War II there were nearly 20 million Victory Gardens in the country that provided more than a third of the produce the nation consumed.

Like many Americans our family is rediscovering the virtues of vegetable gardening. As our home yard is full of perennials and shrubs, we have been gardening on a small plot at church, as have a few other families. The community garden would allow us to open this up to the neighborhood. In particular we would have a chance to offer plots to some of the lower income families who live in the neighborhood around the church.

We need Victory Gardens again. A home or community garden not only provides fresh produce, but it cuts down on dependence on food that is shipped from across the country and world. It saves oil. It makes us more self-sustaining. It gets our hands dirty in a good way. It builds community. If that isn't a recipe for Victory I don't know what is.