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T. Boone Pickens: Let’s transform energy — with natural gas

The US consumes 25% of the world’s oil — but as energy tycoon T. Boone Pickens points out onstage, the country has no energy policy to prepare for the inevitable. Is alternative energy our bridge to an oil-free future? After losing $150 million investing in wind energy, Pickens suggests it isn’t, not yet. What might get us there? Natural gas.

The most boring culture on earth

Even more boring then Moose Jaw?

The Baining—one of the indigenous cultural groups of Papua New Guinea—have the reputation, at least among some researchers, of being the dullest culture on earth. Early in his career, in the 1920s, the famous British anthropologist Gregory Bateson spent 14 months among them, until he finally left in frustration. He called them “unstudiable,” because of their reluctance to say anything interesting about their lives and their failure to exhibit much activity beyond the mundane routines of daily work, and he later wrote that they lived “a drab and colorless existence.” Forty years later, Jeremy Pool, a graduate student in anthropology, spent more than a year living among them in the attempt to develop a doctoral dissertation. He too found almost nothing interesting to say about the Baining, and the experience caused him to leave anthropology and go into computer science.

Finally, however, anthropologist Jane Fajans, now at Cornell University, figured out a way to study them.

Fajans studied the Baining in the late 1970s and again in the early 1990s. Like her predecessors, she found that they lacked the cultural structures that are the stock-in-trade of anthropology, such as myths, festivals,religious traditions, and puberty rites, and that the method of trying to learn about them through interviews produced little response. They did not tell stories, rarely gossiped, and exhibited little curiosity or enthusiasm. In Fajans’s words, “Their conversation is obsessively mundane, concerned primarily with food-getting and food-processing.” She found, however, that she could study them by following them around and observing their daily activities and interactions.  From this she could discern their general cultural beliefs and values.  What she found is fascinating, at least to me. By negative example, it tells us something about the value of play to human existence.

The Baining are small-scale agriculturalists, who subsist on their gardens and the few animals they raise. In their style of life and attitudes they are in many ways the opposite of hunter-gatherers, including those hunter-gatherers to whom they are closely related. Hunter-gatherers love the bush, or forest; value freedom and individual initiative; and—as I have discussed elsewhere (including here and here)—are extraordinarily playful in their daily lives and especially value play among children. Hunter-gatherer children are allowed to play all day, every day, from dawn to dusk, and in that way they acquire the subsistence skills, social skills, and personal traits and values that characterize their culture. In contrast, the Baining shun the bush, which they view as chaotic and dangerous, and they derogate play, especially that among children.

Yep, sounds like Moose Jaw. via

F.S. Michaels speaks on Monoculture

This talk is by FS Michaels, the author of Monoculture and is from the Vancouver talent search for TED Talks.  FS Michaels is the author of "Monoculture: How One Story is Changing Everything," which won the 2011 NCTE George Orwell Award for outstanding contributions to the critical analysis of public discourse.  Watch the presentation and if you like it, head here to rate it.

By the way, Monoculture is on my list for the 10 best books I have ever read.  If you haven’t read it, make sure you pick it up.

It’s hard making friends as an adult

The NY Times has a piece about the challenge of making new friends in your 30s and 40s.

In studies of peer groups, Laura L. Carstensen, a psychology professor who is the director of the Stanford Center on Longevity in California, observed that people tended to interact with fewer people as they moved toward midlife, but that they grew closer to the friends they already had.

Basically, she suggests, this is because people have an internal alarm clock that goes off at big life events, like turning 30. It reminds them that time horizons are shrinking, so it is a point to pull back on exploration and concentrate on the here and now. "You tend to focus on what is most emotionally important to you," she said, "so you’re not interested in going to that cocktail party, you’re interested in spending time with your kids."

As external conditions change, it becomes tougher to meet the three conditions that sociologists since the 1950s have considered crucial to making close friends: proximity; repeated, unplanned interactions; and a setting that encourages people to let their guard down and confide in each other, said Rebecca G. Adams, a professor of sociology and gerontology at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. This is why so many people meet their lifelong friends in college, she added.

Rethinking Le Plateau-Mont-Royal (and how to do municipal politics)

A good article on Luc Fernandez, Montreal city councillor and mayor of Le Plateau-Mont-Royal

Luc Ferrandez’s last bicycle was a Kona, a sturdy model with thick tires, ideal for hauling heavy loads. During his 2009 campaign as the Projet Montréal candidate for the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough, he would hook it to a trailer piled with a laptop, a projector, a collapsible screen, and (this being Montreal) a couple of bottles of rosé. After setting up his equipment next to a café terrace, he would distribute paper cups and launch a PowerPoint slide show of streets and squares in Copenhagen, Paris, and Madrid, as well as historical photos of local boulevards, all unencumbered by traffic. He figures it was these partys de trottoir, or sidewalk parties—during which he made the case that Montreal could be as clean, green, and safe as any place in Europe—that won him the mayoralty of the city’s most populous district. His mountain bike, alas, didn’t survive the campaign.

“I was having a discussion with a citizen,” recalls Ferrandez. “I left my bike against a wall, unlocked. When I came back an hour later, it was gone.” These days, his main mode of transportation is an Opus, which has the upright handlebars and broad saddle of a bike you would expect to find leaning against a canal-side railing in Amsterdam.

I like his philosophy

“I accept that some people think I’m the devil!” Ferrandez shouted over his shoulder, making a right onto rue de Brébeuf. “For them, the Plateau doesn’t exist. It is just a place to be driven through. I don’t give a shit about these people. They’ve abandoned the idea that humans can live together.”

Ferrandez’s vision of what the borough is, and could be, seems almost exalted. “The Plateau is an Italian cathedral. It’s a forest. It’s something to protect, something sacred. I don’t want it to become a place where people come to live in a condo with triple-glazed windows for a couple of years. This has to be a place where people can be comfortable walking to the bakery, walking to school, walking to the park—where they want to stay to raise a family.”

Stop Calling it Bullying

John Fugelsang has a good point.  It really is closer to criminal harassment than anything else.

It’s not the big cities that are the key to the United States recovery

It’s the Tampa Bay, Phoenix and 255 other cities that will determine the health of the United States economy

Collectively, large cities — which we define as metropolitan areas with a population of 150,000 plus — in the United States are the center of gravity of the economy, generating almost 85 percent of U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) and nearly 20 percent of global GDP today. While New York and Los Angeles, the two American megacities with populations of more than ten million, have continued to tower above all others among the 259 large U.S. metropolitan areas, it’s the 257 "middleweight" cities — with populations of between 150,000 and 10 million — that generate more than 70 percent of U.S. GDP today. The top 28 middleweights alone account for more than 35 percent of the nation’s GDP.

It is America’s large cities, and particularly the broad swath of middleweights, that will be the key to the U.S. recovery and a key contributor to global growth in the next 15 years. Large cities in the United States will contribute more to global growth than the large cities of all other developed countries combined. We expect the collective GDP of these large U.S. cities to rise by almost $5.7 trillion — generating more than 10 percent of global GDP growth — by 2025. While New York and Los Angeles together are expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 2.1 percent between 2010 and 2025, the top 30 middleweights (measured by GDP) are expected to outpace them with a growth rate of 2.6 percent.

What’s the formula for success?

Even when narrowing our focus to the strongest performing cities, again there is no single path to success — no unique blueprint that all urban leaders should pursue. The cities that outperform their peers simply find ways to make the most of the economic opportunities they face, get lucky, or both. Some cities have been able to reinvent themselves; many others make the most of their endowments or their location.

Even in these important middleweight cities, growing is going to be tough

The coming years are not going to be easy. As households and the government pay down debts built up before and during the recession, growth could be dampened for many years. Cities that have experienced real estate booms and busts will find recovery particularly hard going. In Orlando and Phoenix more than half of mortgage holders are in negative equity. In Las Vegas, it’s two out of three. And there are still pockets of stubbornly high unemployment — two-thirds of all the jobs lost during the downturn were in states that accounted for only 45 percent of the U.S. population.

I no longer care what you think.

Derek Powazek wrote this last year

Life on the net can be hard. It’s human nature to want to be liked, and to feel bad when someone says something negative to you. And if it’s one thing we all know about the internet, it’s that at any moment, someone, somewhere, is saying something negative.

An easy solution would be to withdraw, to not participate at all. But the world is getting more digital, not less. Eventually we won’t have a choice: if we want any kind of social life, we’ll have to participate in the social web.

Another solution would be to develop a thicker skin. And while I’ve certainly done that over the years, I never want to become so callous that I just don’t care about anything. I want to be able to be myself in the world.

So the solution I’ve come to is this: I care a lot about a very small group of people. I maintain a hierarchy of who I need to be okay with. It starts with my wife Heather, my parents and my sister, and includes my clients and a very short list of friends. You know who’s not on that list? Anonymous internet commenters. For them and everyone else not on the list, I just try to remember a saying I heard once: “Your opinion of me is none of my business.”

If you’re reading this, chances are, you’re not on that list, and I’m sorry if that hurts your feelings. But the truth is, I’m probably not on your list, either. It’s okay if our hearts are not yet big enough to include everyone they deserve.

He manages it this way

If you use Twitter, you pay attention to your mentions – the tweets that include @yourusername – because that’s how you have conversations. And therein lies the problem, because anyone can tweet at you that way. Some of those people are batshit crazy like the Haight Street Guy, while others are just merely rude like the Conference Talker Guy.

The difference is, on Haight Street, you have to walk briskly away and hope you’re not followed. And at the conference, you have to de-escalate the conversation politely, in front of a crowd. But on Twitter, there is a magic button, and in one click, poof, the crazy is gone.

It’s a wonderful thing. A thing so lovely I often find myself wishing it existed in real life.So why is blocking such a taboo?

I think the Block function on sites like Twitter and Flickr is unfortunately named. There’s something about the word – Block! – that comes across as a personal insult. And that’s too bad, because it’s basically the only tool we have to effectively manage our social experience in those communities.

I propose that blocking people on sites like Twitter or Flickr should not be interpreted as an insult. I propose that it’s simply taking yourself out of someone else’s attention stream.

If I block you on Twitter, my tweets no longer show up in your timeline. If I block you on Flickr, my photos no longer show up on your contacts page. In these settings, this is the only way for me to remove myself from your attention.

I don’t know what Derek defines as his breaking point.  Over the years I have left a couple of comments on both his and Heather’s Flickr and Twitter streams that have been sometimes ignored and sometimes replied to but I haven’t been blocked.  I tend to do the same thing although I fall more on the ignore side of the things which doesn’t mean I don’t care but it often means I have nothing to say back.  It’s how Twitter works.  I hadn’t thought of it that much until someone that I know unknowingly posted something fairly offensive on my Twitter stream and I was going to reply when I realized that I didn’t care what this person thought of my views so I hit “block”.  I used to do it quite a bit on my blog but a combination of blocking those that just want to argue and not posting very much eliminated the need.

I get a lot of criticism and feedback at work.  I work with the hard to house and many have significant anger issues along with a variety of social disorders.  When they don’t get their way, they generally comment on my weight, my intelligence, my faith, being bald, and being ugly.  It happens day in and day out but at the end of the day I can go home and relax.  To log in and get it day in and day out when all I want to do is a little reading and writing is absurd.  By blocking you, I remove my offensive views from your attention and we are both happier.  My piece of the internet is free from inane comments, your net is free of my views that bother you so much.  There is such a thing as win/win and it’s found by clicking block.

Powazek talks of the need to stay reconciled with some people but I find that those people don’t take stupid potshots online.   The other thing is that there is a difference between being close to someone and having to interact with them online.  Facebook and myself don’t get along that well.  It doesn’t mean that I don’t like people who choose to interact there, it just means that I choose not to interact with them there.  Same with online.  On Twitter I choose who I follow but I can also choose who I want to follow me and I am realizing more and more, I don’t want all people interacting with me there.   I realize that some people that are normal in person are jerks online.  If you don’t like it, I think I just said, I don’t really care.

What Americans want: A walkable neighborhood

From Good

The symbol of American success often involves having the biggest house possible, but our outsized fantasies seem to be shifting. According to a new survey, more than three quarters of us consider having sidewalks and places to take a walk one of our top priorities when deciding where to live. Six in 10 people also said they would sacrifice a bigger house to live in a neighborhood that featured a mix of houses, stores, and businesses within an easy walk.

For once, our preferences align with our impending reality; in the future, we may not have a choice whether or not to downsize our lifestyles. The housing bust exposed that the McMansion phenomenon is unsustainable, which has forced us to re-examine our priorities. In another study in 2010, the ideal number of square footage people desired for their houses dropped dramatically. It’s becoming increasingly clear that the American dream of buying a big old house will need to be revised for the youngest generation.

I wonder if it is an awakening towards urban design or the reality that the traditional American dream is dead and things like a walkable neighborhood and a real sense of community is a pretty important too.

Your last day

Former SNL writer, activist, and comedian, Joe Bodolai leaves a stirring suicide note on his blog.

Award winner coming through…

It not me but F.S. Michaels, author of the book Monoculture which I have mentioned around here before.  Here are the details.

2011 NCTE Award Winning Book: Monoculture by F.S. MichaelsFIRST-TIME CANADIAN  AUTHOR WINS AMERICA’S GEORGE ORWELL AWARD
NCTE George Orwell Award for Distinguished Contribution to Honesty and Clarity in Public Language

Canadian author F.S. Michaels has won America’s prestigious 2011 George Orwell Award for the non-fiction debut MONOCULTURE: HOW ONE STORY IS CHANGING EVERYTHING (Red Clover Press, May 2011). Published by Red Clover, a new Canadian independent press, MONOCULTURE has been described as “a provocative investigation of the dominant story of our time.”

ABOUT THE AWARD
The annual George Orwell Award, established in 1975 and given by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), recognizes authors who have made an outstanding contribution to the critical analysis of public discourse. Past recipients include author Michael Pollan (In Defense of Food), Amy Goodman (co-founder, executive producer, and host of the award-winning national daily news program Democracy Now!), Pulitzer Prize-winner Charlie Savage, television host Jon Stewart and the “Daily Show” cast, economist Juliet B. Schor, linguist Noam Chomsky, and cultural critic Neil Postman.

Congratulations!  It is on my soon to be published list of my best reads of 2011.  If you haven’t read it yet, you really need to.  The book changed how I look at much of the world around me.

When police go bad

NYPD protest charges against their own bad cops

Okay, is this disturbing to anyone else?

As 16 police officers were arraigned at State Supreme Court in the Bronx, incensed colleagues organized by their union cursed and taunted prosecutors and investigators, chanting “Down with the D.A.” and “Ray Kelly, hypocrite.”

As the defendants emerged from their morning court appearance, a swarm of officers formed a cordon in the hallway and clapped as they picked their way to the elevators. Members of the news media were prevented by court officers from walking down the hallway where more than 100 off-duty police officers had gathered outside the courtroom.

The assembled police officers blocked cameras from filming their colleagues, in one instance grabbing lenses and shoving television camera operators backward.

The unsealed indictments contained more than 1,600 criminal counts, the bulk of them misdemeanors having to do with making tickets disappear as favors for friends, relatives and others with clout. But they also outlined more serious crimes, related both to ticket-fixing and drugs, grand larceny and unrelated corruption. Four of the officers were charged with helping a man get away with assault.

Jose R. Ramos, an officer in the 40th Precinct whose suspicious behavior spawned the protracted investigation, was accused of two dozen crimes, including attempted robbery, attempted grand larceny, transporting what he thought was heroin for drug dealers and revealing the identity of a confidential informant.

I guess we all can accept that there are bad cops.  There are hundreds of thousands of them in the United States and a simple law of averages say that tsome of them are going to be corrupt.  Police forces acknowledge this themselves when they have special units to investigate them or have a process where the RCMP or State Police investigate other police forces.

What really unnerves me is to see 100 colleagues supporting the bad cops and acting in a way that if they were on duty, would have an obligation to stop.

It can be put this way

“It is hard to see an upside in the way the anger was expressed, especially in Bronx County, where you already have a hard row to hoe in terms of building rapport with the community,” said Eugene J. O’Donnell, a professor of police studies at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. “The Police Department is a very angry work force, and that is something that should concern people, because it translates into hostile interactions with people.”

The behavior could be construed as violating department rules. Even when officers are off duty, the police patrol guide states, “Conduct which brings discredit to the department or conduct in violation of law is unacceptable and will result in appropriate disciplinary measures.”

It gets better.

A police official said Mr. Kelly did not condone the hostile comments made by some officers. Particularly disturbing, the official said, was a news report that said some officers chanted “E.B.T.” at people lined up at a benefits center across the street, referring to electronic benefit transfer, the method by which welfare checks are distributed. The people had apparently chanted “Fix our tickets” to the officers.

“To begin ridiculing people in the welfare line across the street doesn’t endear you to the public eye,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity so as not to be heard directly criticizing members of the force.

And there is a union angle.

Prosecutors said the bulk of the vanished tickets were arranged by officials of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association, the city’s largest police union. All the officers charged with fixing tickets are either current or past union delegates or trustees.

During the investigation, overseen by the Bronx district attorney’s office, prosecutors found fixing tickets to be so extensive that they considered charging the union under the state racketeering law as a criminal enterprise, the tactic employed against organized crime families. But they apparently concluded that the evidence did not support that approach.

The Bronx district attorney, Robert T. Johnson, said the tickets fixed had robbed the city of $1 million to $2 million.

The prosecutors office is not amused.

During the investigation, overseen by the Bronx district attorney’s office, prosecutors found fixing tickets to be so extensive that they considered charging the union under the state racketeering law as a criminal enterprise, the tactic employed against organized crime families. But they apparently concluded that the evidence did not support that approach.

So let’s review.  According to the NY Times, a bad cop is under investigation for letting a friend deal drugs out of a couple of properties he owns.  While being wire tapped, he confessed to fixing tickets along with other officers, this widespread practice is actually being largely done by NYPD’s union leadership.  When charged with the crime, over 350 off duty officers start to protest and physically assault camera crews and taunt those receiving Social Assistance.

That is a huge problem and has probably set back policing in the Bronx for a generation.

Killing the Abraham

Caterina Fake has a great post on the role of Abraham in a company.

I call the founder, founders or founding team of a company “The Abraham”. The Abraham influences all that follows, sets the vision and direction for the company, and the Abraham’s mores, habits, preferences, flaws and prejudices are often built, consciously or unconsciously, into the fabric of the company. This influences the products and services, first and foremost. But the Abraham also influences everything from company HR policies, the kinds of employees that work there, its investors, its customer service and even its logo and office decor. You can often tell what the founder cared about, and didn’t care about. You go to Google and it’s like a playground for adults– curious, smart adults — massive dinosaur in the courtyard, lego tables, beanbag chairs, primary colors — and then you read interviews with Larry and Sergey where they credit their success to having attended Montessori schools, and you see where it came from.

Often the Abraham is CEO, but doesn’t stay CEO. Google’s Abrahams are Larry and Sergey, and they had a strong influence on the company even during the 10 years that Eric Schmidt was CEO. Oracle is very Larry Ellison. Martha Stewart is very Martha Stewart. Zynga is very Mark Pincus. Groupon is very Andrew Mason. And isn’t Apple so very much Steve Jobs, so much so that when he left, and his successors tried to kill the Abraham, the company nearly died? It’s hard to kill the Abraham. Not only that, if you succeed, it may not be possible for the new leader to assume the mantle. Best for the Abraham to stick around, and work closely with the new leaders to make sure the spirit of the company survives. This has been, in my experience and observation, the best method for retaining the magical juju. This is why the role of incoming, non-native CEO at a startup is a notoriously difficult job. They don’t fit in with the company culture. Most of them don’t last a year.

Most of the Chilean miners are still off work

It’s a sad story.

But today Mr. Sánchez, like many of the 33 miners who survived 69 days nearly a half-mile underground, is jobless and at wits’ end. Twice a month, he boards a bus to Santiago, Chile’s capital, traveling 11 hours each way for a short visit with a psychiatrist. He is one of nine miners receiving sick-leave pay for prolonged post-traumatic stress; a handful of others say they are seeing private therapists.

“Most of us are in the same place with emotional and psychological problems,” said Mr. Sánchez, 20. “It was the fear that we would never again see our families, that we were going to die. We just can’t shake those memories.”

One year after their globally televised rescue, after the worldwide spotlight faded and the trips and offers have dwindled, the miners say that most of them are unemployed and that many are poorer than before.

Only a handful of them have steady jobs, they say. Just four have returned to mining. Two others, Víctor Zamora and Darío Segovia, are trying to make ends meet by selling fruits and vegetables, one from a stall, the other out of his truck.

The Lost Generation

America’s lost generation

The world has seen a number of lost generations in the past century. Gertrude Stein first coined the term in 1920s in reference to the Europeans who grew up during World War I, but it’s most recently referred to Japanese youth who grew up during that country’s recession in the 1990s. In Japan, the lost youth are referred to as the hikikomori, and the decade of widespread unemployment meant that many of them never had the chance to start careers. In the 10 years of recession in Japan the number of young people working temporary or contract jobs doubled, and the collective hopelessness lead to a sky-rocketing suicide rate. Michael Zielenziger described the generation in his 2006 book Shutting Out the Sun: How Japan Created Its Own Lost Generation:

Across Japan, more than one million men and boys like Jun and Hiro and Kenji have chosen to withdraw completely from society. These recluses hide in their homes for months or years at a time, refusing to leave the protective walls of their bedrooms. They are as frightened as small children abandoned in a dark forest. Some spend their days playing video games. A few–an estimated 10 percent–surf the Internet. Many just pace, read books, or drink beer and shochu, a Japanese form of vodka. Others do nothing for weeks at a time.

Obviously, the Japanese and American cultures are incredibly different, and it’s impossible to do an apples-to-apples comparison of the two young generations. However, the new census data reads like a warning sign that American youth are increasingly challenged by listlessness, and it will likely lead to future consequences. "Many young adults are essentially postponing adulthood and all of the family responsibilities and extra costs that go along with it," assistant vice president of the Population Research Bureau told the AP. "Some of these changes started before the recession but now they are accelerating, with effects on families that could be long term."