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Paul Buchheit: The Super-Rich and Sordid Tales of Selfishness

Originally posted on Vox Populi:

Philanthropy, no matter how well intentioned, cannot compensate for the flaws of capitalism.

If the mainstream media made the effort to analyze and report the facts, the whole country would know about a level of selfishness that has spiraled out of control since the economists of the Reagan era convinced the wealthiest Americans that greed is good for everyone. Here are four extreme examples of that selfishness.

1. Ebola’s Not Worth the Money If Only Africans Get Infected

World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Dr. Margaret Chan recently stated: “Ebola emerged nearly four decades ago. Why are clinicians still empty-handed, with no vaccines and no cure? Because Ebola has historically been confined to poor African nations. The R&D incentive is virtually non-existent. A profit-driven industry does not invest in products for markets that cannot pay.”

So we turn to philanthropy. But rich donors don’t compensate for the flaws of capitalism. The…

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A ZW Thanksgiving?

My family, as it can pretty easily be guessed, isn’t all that environmentally-conscious… and especially not to the extent that I am. So I can pretty much guarantee that my Thanksgiving won’t be politically or environmentally-aware in the least. BUT. That’s not going to stop me from fantasizing about my someday-Thanksgiving (actually, my two someday-Thanksgivings, as hubs, being Canadian, celebrates his 6 weeks before I do mine!).

Making Thanksgiving vegan, it seems to me, would be surprisingly easy. There’s not much in the way of cheese or eggs or milk in any of the dishes, so the main animal by-product would be broth and drippings. Which, considering that the meat itself has always been second to the rest of the fixins for me, is easy peasy to bypass.

Green bean casserole. Mashed potatoes with vegan gravy made from starch, nut milk, and veggie broth. Winter salad. Roasted carrots. Baked veggie stuffing. Biscuits. And for dessert? Pumpkin pie, of course! For me, all of this besides the butter and flavorings (oils, tamari, etc) can be made using bulk-sourced or package-free products. Pretty nifty. I’m not going to say that I haven’t eyed the Gardein “Stuffed Turk’y”, which comes in a pack of two. (Gardein makes amazing stuff, I promise.) And this year, I may still get myself one, depending on whether or not I feel like making my own stuffing to bring to dinner. Honestly, I can do without turkey, or even a turkey substitute, but I cannot do without stuffing.

Hubs, what with doing the low-carb paleo thing (or trying to), would require a turkey breast or two for sure, and definitely some of his own gravy. The rest can be shared between us, no problem, aside from the biscuits and stuffing, which he doesn’t much like anyways. The pie is easy enough to make grain-free also. Unfortunately, meat is very hard to find package-free, and especially seasonally available meats like turkey breasts and the like. Oh well, what’s a little cling film every once in a while I suppose.

All in all, it’s a pretty zero-waste plan, and making the vast majority of the meal nut and produce-based pretty much guarantees it.

To end  this post, here are some of my favorite holiday recipes:

Go forth and cook!

What’ll your Thanksgiving look like this year, USians?

9 Things Drivers Need to Stop Saying in the Bikes vs. Cars Debate

From Wired.com:

There are certain things guaranteed to set off an internet firestorm. Talk about climate change, mention Monsanto, or bring up the treatment of women in video games. And you can, especially in recent years, piss off a whole bunch of people simply by writing about bikes and cars. Nothing seems to bring out the angry caps lock and personal attacks faster than transportation issues.

A recent report showing more cyclists are dying on US streets prompted a remarkable number of stories about cyclist safety. And in the comments section of each, people rehashed the same tired arguments over and over.

So, before the next big wave of internet arguing, I propose we retire a few overused and underwhelming opinions in the bikes vs. cars debate. Though I drive and bike, my allegiances skew toward cyclists (feel free to scroll straight the comments and yell at me). But beyond my personal judgments lie a great many studies and data showing most of the pro-motorist arguments just don’t hold up. I know it’s hard to be wrong, especially on the internet, but here are a few sentences I hope we see less of in the future.

1. Cyclists always break the law

Let’s get this one out of the way first, because it’s the one you hear most often: “I can’t respect cyclists because they ignore stop signs” or “Cyclists don’t seem to understand the rules of the road.” And yeah, when I’m on my bike, I sometimes bend traffic laws and see other cyclists doing the same.

The question is, how often does this happen? And how angelic are drivers? The data is a little hard to come by: Nobody, as far as I can tell, has placed a camera on the shoulders of drivers and cyclists and measured how well they follow the rules of traffic. But there is some information. One British study found that six out of ten cyclists admit to running red lights. Last year, New York magazine sent an intern out to see how cyclists handled traffic lights at three intersections. She found only 14, 22, and 36.6 percent of riders stopped at red lights, respectively.

How about cars? Well, an internet questionnaire found two-thirds of drivers admit to breaking the law at some point. The Society of Automotive Engineers concludedthat US drivers use their turn signals just half the time when changing lanes, and only a quarter of the time when turning improperly, which could be responsible for as many as two million accidents annually. And that 14-to-36 percent compliance rate for bikers? It’s a little offset by the fact that New York City drivers collectively run 1.23 million red lightsper day.

The truth is that we’re just not that great at not breaking the law. Cyclists neglect to follow some rules, mostly rolling though stop signs and going through red lights if there’s no cross traffic. Drivers tend to forget the following things are illegal (at least in California): Speeding, tailgating, not signaling, not stopping before a right turn, getting behind the wheel while drunk, texting or using a cell phone without the hands-free option, double parking, throwing trash (including cigarette butts) out the window, failing to stop for pedestrians in a crosswalk, making a U-turn when there’s a ‘No U-turn’ sign, honking your horn just because you’re angry, and yes, running red lights and rolling through stop signs.

I’m not saying two wrongs make a right. That drivers break the law doesn’t make it okay for cyclists to do so. I’m trying to point out that traffic laws are some of the least important and most commonly disregarded rules on our books. Drivers break them every day, casually, and usually without much thought. But the way some people talk about rule-breaking cyclists, you’d think our traffic laws were equivalent to the Bill of Rights, Geneva Conventions, and Magna Carta rolled up into one.

My conclusion is, chill out. Most people see cars breaking laws every day without saying “I don’t respect drivers” or “Drivers really need to learn the rules of the road.” Sitting on a bike seat doesn’t somehow turn you into a monster anymore than getting behind the wheel does. Cyclists don’t break the rules because they’re bad people, they do it because they’re people.

2. Roads are designed for cars

So I looked into it and, as it turns out, roads have been around for many thousands of years. And for much of that time, they’ve carried a wide variety of things: feet, carts, horses, wagons, streetcars, buses, bikes, and automobiles. It’s only in the last six or seven decades that we’ve decided cars should get priority.

The roads don’t control us, we control them. We can design them to carry whatever types of traffic we feel are useful, and provide for safe and convenient passage of those different modes. But after World War II, many forces in the US—suburban planning, interstate highway development, the movement of the middle-class out of cities—conspired to create a motorist-dominated streetscape. These days, most state departments of transportation evaluate roads using one metric, called Level of Service.

LOS doesn’t tell engineers how safe a street is for pedestrians, or how convenient it is for buses. It measures only one thing: How many cars you can move through an intersection in a given period. Any delay in auto traffic is a bad thing, to be rectified by shrinking sidewalks, increasing lane widths, and removing crosswalks and on-street parking. The problem is that making driving easier also encourages more driving, a phenomenon known as induced demand, which causes traffic engineers to chase ever-diminishing returns in trying to improve LOS. These days, many cities and states are reevaluating their reliance on LOS, with California set to ditch it entirely.

But for so many years, we’ve auto-oriented our roads and put every single other mode of travel at a disadvantage. More troublingly, we’ve auto-oriented our minds, making it hard to imagine that things could ever be any different.

3. Cyclists are dangerous

The CDC notes that though only 1 percent of trips are made by bike in the US,cyclists face a higher risk of crash-related injuries than drivers. Around 700 people on bikes are killed a year on the road, and cyclists occasionally hit and injure or kill pedestrians. Therefore, some might say, bikers are reckless, with an utter disregard for their own safety and the safety of others.

Look, cyclists have a responsibility to stay safe and look out for others. But drivers are operating much more powerful, much heavier vehicles at high speeds. And if there’s anything Spiderman’s Uncle Ben taught me, it’s that great power comes with great responsibility.

The US ranks behind many developed countries in traffic safety, with automobileskilling nearly 34,000 people a year. That’s equivalent to a Boeing 747 crashing and killing everyone on board every single week, year after year. If planes were crashing once per week, would you consider it safe to fly? While we call these things accidents, the truth is our roads are far deadlier than they need to be. One of the things we can do to avoid so much carnage is redesign streets to slow down the automobiles.

A 2013 study from the AAA’s Foundation for Traffic Safety found that a person struck by a car at 25 miles per hour has a 10 percent risk of dying. At 40 mph that risk increases to 50 percent. In places with high numbers of pedestrians and cyclists, speed limits can be reduced in the name of safety, something that New York City has recently done. I understand we can’t engineer away all collisions, and some people will still die on our roads, but that’s not really a good excuse for not trying to reducing their harm.

4. There’s not enough room for bike lanes without causing gridlock

Driving in the US is relatively cheap and convenient. Gas taxes are low, the roads have been designed with speeding in mind, and highways connect far-flung places. It’s not really surprising that many people fear changing this system. After all, it seems to most that removing a traffic lane will reduce the capacity of the road and clog things up for drivers.

But traffic engineering is actually a little counter-intuitive. It turns out you can take away auto traffic lanes and not have a significant slowdown for drivers. When protected bike lanes are implemented well, they have been found to improve everyone’s safety, generate more revenue for shops along the street, and, yep, even speed up car traffic. With good design, cycling infrastructure fits easily into city roads and intersections.

This actually make more sense when you realize that a bike lane isn’t necessarily reducing capacity, it’s allowing people to switch to another mode of transport. Cities have a finite size. Bikes and public transit are more space-efficient ways of moving large groups of people. We can try to keep squeezing cars in, requiring more lanes and more parking, or maybe realize that such a system will never completely work and take a different tack.

5. Cyclists just want everyone to stop driving

You often hear that some people want to “coerce people out of their cars.” If that’s the case, then why are nearly all Americans still driving to work? Every time most people step out of their house to go somewhere, they’re more or less required to get into a small motorized box and drive. We’ve auto-oriented our thinking so much that hardly anybody even questions this fact anymore.

Cars are great. They’re convenient, they shrink distances, they get people to exactly where they want to go. But they’re also noisy, polluting, and deadly. What I think most cycling advocates would tell you is that driving a car shouldn’t be the default option for every outing. By some estimates, something like 40 to 70 percent of car trips are under two miles, a distance that could easily be covered by biking or frequent transit.

There’s a bike lane by my house that suddenly ends for no reason, dropping me in a lane filled with fast-moving cars. How would drivers feel if their lane came to a stop and deposited them on a railroad track? If we had fully separated and protected bike lanes in a well-connected grid—as in high-cycling countries like Denmark andthe Netherlands—more people would feel comfortable using them and perhaps even a few would be “coerced” out of their cars.

6. Drivers pay for roads so they should get priority

I’m sorry, but your gas taxes don’t cover the cost of roads and highways. Since the interstate system was implemented in 1947, US spending on highways has exceeded the amount collected from fuel and vehicle fees by more than $600 billion. Where has the rest of that money come from? Mostly bonds, property taxes, and the general fund. So even if you don’t drive, you’re paying for highways, a type of infrastructure that only cars can use. Roads in your city are generally financed through local, property, and sales taxes.

Designing our cities around cars, as we’ve done for the last few decades, requires large seas of parking and long highways to get people around. Auto-oriented design can decrease density to the point where the tax revenue generated by homes and business no longer covers the cost of maintaining roads and other infrastructure. Such a system, where municipalities don’t have the necessary funds to maintain what they’ve built, has been referred to as a Ponzi Scheme and represents a massive expenditure of money from all of us in favor of drivers.

7. Cycling is a fad

Sure, cycling in many major US cities has tripled since 1990, and even increased significantly in smaller and mid-size cities. But how do we know it will last? What happens if we redesign our streets only to find that all the bikers disappeared?

I suppose there’s that risk. Maybe tomorrow, many cyclists will wake up and realize that they’ve been duped, and that all they ever really wanted was a car. But there’s a good amount of data to suggest that won’t be the case. In the first place, rates of driving in the US seem to have peaked. While earlier generations have been mostly mono-modal, 70 percent of millennials (those folks born between 1980 and 2000)say they use multiple forms of transportation to get around, including walking, biking, driving, and public transit. As a member of this generation, I can tell you anecdotally that most of my friends have a bike and use it all the time. Even those with kids still ride, often with the little ones strapped into a seat on the front. I hope that when I have children, they will inherit a world with less auto pollution and more protected bike lanes.

8. There’s a war on cars

Ah yes, the War on Cars. Taking away parking spots, replacing automotive lanes with bike or transit-only lanes, and slowing drivers down. The tireless effort from wicked anti-car groups who love to rub their hands together, cackle, and think up new ways to piss off motorists. Or at least, that’s how some people seem to view it.

How do I know the War on Cars is not really a thing? Because I’ve been outside my house, and seen that there are still cars everywhere. It’s a lot like the phantom War on Christmas that has yet to stop the month-long wreath, candy cane, Santa Claus, and Christmas tune-fest that takes over this country every December.

Our roads are already heavily tilted in favor of cars. Yet drivers seem to hate the idea of being slightly inconvenienced so that other modes of transport might be safer and more appealing. Pedestrians, cyclists, and public transit users have been incredibly inconvenienced for decades, all so automobiles could get where they’re going a bit faster. Redesigning streets is not a “war” against cars. It’s just acknowledgment that they don’t have to be the only thing on the road.

9. People absolutely need cars to get around

If we take away cars, how will people go to the store? Or carry large equipment around? Or take their grandmother to her doctor’s appointment?

Well, probably some of those things will be done by bike. Using cargo bikes and trailers, people ride around with their children, haul groceries, and even move their furniture. In general, drivers aren’t ferrying a couch and an elderly family member on every trip they take (though I haven’t actually checked this).

What it comes down to is that there are many different tools for many different jobs. In many places, like low-density cities and suburban areas, I understand that cars will probably continue to be extremely useful and likely the dominant mode of transportation. But in more crowded cities, it makes more sense to move beyond one single mode of transportation and give people more options and more freedom.

Now, feel free to get into the comments and debate how our cities should respond to the needs of everyone who uses public roads. But please, think carefully before using any of the above arguments. If you can do better, we’d love to hear it.

I copypasta’d the whole thing because Wired doesn’t really need a small blog like this one to link to them.

Redefining Benefits And Welfare, With Fresh Fruits And Vegetables

Originally posted on Raxa Collective:

These wooden tokens are handed out to shoppers who use SNAP benefits to purchase fresh produce at the Crossroads Farmers Market near Takoma Park, Md. Customers receive tokens worth twice the amount of money withdrawn from their SNAP benefits card — in other words, they get "double bucks." Dan Charles/NPR

These wooden tokens are handed out to shoppers who use SNAP benefits to purchase fresh produce at the Crossroads Farmers Market near Takoma Park, Md. Customers receive tokens worth twice the amount of money withdrawn from their SNAP benefits card — in other words, they get “double bucks.” Dan Charles/NPR

Thanks to the salt, a food-specialized segment on National Public Radio (USA), for this story of one country’s expanding definition and innovative rethinking of welfare, and of the various benefits associated with welfare:

The federal government is about to put $100 million behind a simple idea: doubling the value of SNAP benefits — what used to be called food stamps — when people use them to buy local fruits and vegetables.

This idea did not start on Capitol Hill. It began as a local innovation at a few farmers’ markets. But it proved remarkably popular and spread across the country.

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Today In the Garden

New herb garden! We’d bought some small herbs earlier this year, but being a noob, it didn’t occur to me that summer in So Cal kills plants just as readily as winter does in most other places, so that when a seed package says “spring” or “after last frost”, for us that means “fall” or “after last heatwave”.

My grandma’s basil plant. It’s not in that great of shape because she forgot to trim off the flowers earlier this year, but the upside is that some of the seeds escaped and now we’ve got a bunch of seedlings coming up. Hopefully I can keep them alive and give them away when they’re big enough.

A small rosemary here, but keeping it company are a TON of little sprouting lamb’s quarters. Lamb’s quarters are a prolific weed in these parts, but are very edible, and are actually also called wild spinach. I’ve found the matured greens to be unpleasant when raw (but foragers love the stuff when cooked I guess), but the baby greens are way nummo. This is what the look like all grown up:

These guys just kind of sprung up on their own a few months ago near the hose. I’m gonna see if I can save some seed if it turns out these “microgreens” are just as edible as any other.

Tomatoes and beets? I think?? I don’t remember??? Pretty sure beets mostly though. I guess we’ll see once they start developing their real leaves.

To the front “yard”! This is spearmint that almost didn’t make it through the summer and is very slowly coming back. In the yellow pot is a baby s. americanum, also known as black nightshade. It’s also a prolific weed around here, and the berries are edible under certain circumstances, but I’m mostly keeping one for magical purposes.

Nearby are my precious pea plants! They’re so pretty! And so easy to grow! I planted them about 5-6 weeks ago, and they’re already about 8-9″ tall. The packet says they should start producing in another month or two.

Also in the 70 sq/ft patch of dirt is my zucchini mound. I only planted these about a week ago, complete with a little compost. Now all that I need to do is wait.

Back inside, I’ve got a few things going on too…

Celery being regrown from a scrap, mint and garlic attempting to be rooted.

Red onion being regrown from a scrap too.

And finally…

My bottle herb garden! Testing the idea to see if it’ll work at the condo. Here’s the guide I got the idea from, and wow, what a neat idea it is. I have a couple of larger plastic bottles as well, but I’m going to put them to use for individual garlic and onion bulbs, my maturing beets, and maybe some kale or something similar.

An Introduction to the Jevons Paradox

The Jevons Paradox, first observed by William Stanley Jevons in the 19th century, describes the phenomenon by which consumption of a resource increases in response to advances in the efficiency by which that resource is used, sometimes negating the efficiency gain altogether.

From Wikipedia:

The Jevons paradox was first described by the English economist William Stanley Jevons in his 1865 book The Coal Question. Jevons observed that England’s consumption of coal soared after James Watt introduced his coal-fired steam engine, which greatly improved the efficiency of Thomas Newcomen’s earlier design. Watt’s innovations made coal a more cost-effective power source, leading to the increased use of the steam engine in a wide range of industries. This in turn increased total coal consumption, even as the amount of coal required for any particular application fell. Jevons argued that improvements in fuel efficiency tend to increase, rather than decrease, fuel use: “It is a confusion of ideas to suppose that the economical use of fuel is equivalent to diminished consumption. The very contrary is the truth.”

At that time many in Britain worried that coal reserves were rapidly dwindling, but some experts opined that improving technology would reduce coal consumption. Jevons argued that this view was incorrect, as further increases in efficiency would tend to increase the use of coal. Hence, improving technology would tend to increase, rather than reduce, the rate at which England’s coal deposits were being depleted.

From Our Energy Futures:

The Jevons paradox (not to be confused with the Rebound Effect, which is the reductionistic view of this phenomenon) states that if a system gains the possibility of using more energy, through increases in efficiency, it will use this opportunity to “do more” – exploring new activities and expanding the set of functions, which can be expressed – rather than “doing the same, while consuming less”. This paradox (more efficiency leads to more consumption), stated by Jevons in the first half of the 20th century, has proved right over and over in several applications. This implies that it is very naive to expect that technical improvement in efficiency will lead “per se” to lower consumption of energy. The truth is that sustainability is not a technical issue, but a cultural one

The Jevons Paradox is based on a foundation principle of Economics: Any time one reduces the cost of consuming a valued resource, people will respond by consuming more of it. Or people will consume more of something else, resulting in perhaps no net savings or even greater overall consumption. As the noted journalist Eric Sevareid once said, “The chief cause of problems is solutions.”

In response to a really terrible Grist article on the subject:

Though Jevon’s Paradox may not apply to every situation, I think there is plenty of evidence that Jevon’s Paradox applies to *many* situations. Therefore, it is worthy of being acknowledged and studied, and anybody who tries to off-handedly throw it out (as I feel Grist often does) is making a mistake.

Now, assume we believe Jevon’s Paradox to be true. Then this is the point so many people miss because they polarize this issue into either we should do nothing or do everything:

Technological efficiency is good but ONLY if it is accompanied by corresponding policy and the ensuing behavioral change to make sure the efficiency is truly harnessed rather than being exploited to consume more.

This means that efficiency without policy and behavioral change will demonstrate Jevon’s Paradox, whereas that accompanied with smart policy and behavioral change will cut consumption. I think Grist and its writers are so afraid of acknowledging Jevon’s Paradox because they believe people’s response to it will be: hey, let’s just keep making things more efficient and not worry about anything else, and everything will work out. And if this were true, then we should indeed be worried (after all, our main problems on this planet are social/political/behavioral, not technological). But here is why Grist drives me nuts on this issue: it’s not that extreme. We need to acknowledge that efficiency by itself is useless. In other words, improved technological efficiency is absolutely no excuse to fight the real battle: changing our behavior via better policy and social institutions.

In short, Jevons Paradox exists, and it is observable. The debate, though, is where and to what extent it applies to any given system, and what kind of systems (micro- or macro- seems to be the question) it tends to apply to. And then there’s just some people, like the author of the Grist piece, who get offended by it and call it names.

Have you ever seen the Jevons Paradox in action in your life?

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See also:

Beyond Civilized and Primitive: Some Favorite Quotes

I’ve been doing a lot of reading about this post-civilization anarchist theory stuff lately, and I’m really, really impressed by what I’m finding. It’s a newer philosophy of anarchism so there’s not too much out there on the subject yet, but here are some favorite quotes from a piece called Beyond Civilized and Primitive.

Americans think freedom means no restraint. So I’m free to start a big company and rule ten thousand wage laborers, and if they don’t like it they’re free to go on strike, and I’m free to hire thugs to crack their heads, and they’re free to quit, and I’m free to buy politicans to cut off support for the unemployed, so now they’re free to either starve and die, or accept the job on my terms and use their freedom of speech to impotently complain.

We like hot baths and sailing ships and recorded music and the internet, but we worry that we can’t have them without exterminating half the species on Earth, or exploiting Asian sweatshop workers, or dumping so many toxins that we all get cancer, or overextending our system so far that it crashes and we get eaten by roving gangs.

I think the root of civilization, and a major source of human evil, is simply that we became clever enough to extend our power beyond our empathy. It’s like the famous Twilight Zone episode where there’s a box with a button, and if you push it, you get a million dollars and someone you don’t know dies. We have countless “boxes” that do basically the same thing. Some of them are physical, like cruise missiles or ocean-killing fertilizers, or even junk food where your mouth gets a million dollars and your heart dies. Others are social, like subsidies that make junk food affordable, or the corporation, which by definition does any harm it can get away with that will bring profit to the shareholders. I’m guessing it all started when our mental and physical tools combined to enable positive feedback in personal wealth. Anyway, as soon as you have something that does more harm than good, but that appears to the decision makers to do more good than harm, the decision makers will decide to do more and more of it, and before long you have a whole society built around obvious benefits that do hidden harm.

I have a wild speculation about the origin of complex societies. The Great Pyramid of Giza is superior in every way to the two pyramids next to it — yet the Great Pyramid was the first of the three to be built. It’s like Egyptian civilization appeared out of nowhere at full strength, and immediately began declining. My thought is: the first pyramid was not built by slaves. It was built by an explosion of human enthusiasm channeled into a massive cooperative effort. But then, as we’ve seen in pretty much every large system in history, this pattern of human action hardened, leaders became rulers, inspired actions became chores, and workers became slaves.

Click here to read Beyond Civilized and Primitive.

And here’s a list of other articles written on post-civ theory: http://theanarchistlibrary.org/topics/post-civ

 

Intro to Post-Civilizationism?

It’s called Take What You Need and Compost the Rest: an anarchist introduction to post-civilization theory

The author envisions a future where Nintendo consoles are solar-powered communal property, where pavement is torn up and replaced with gardens and bike paths, where garbage mining is a way of life alongside advanced electrical engineering using scavenged toy parts. She makes a very compelling argument against the concept of civilization, the definition of which she defines as being a centralizing, globalizing, waste-making machine that seeks to eradicate all other methods of human organization and co-operation, obliterating older, more sustainable social structures.

The very first paragraphs pack quite a punch:

Well, that civilization thing was interesting, now wasn’t it? I mean, it certainly seemed worth a shot. We got a lot out of it: telescopes, wheelchairs, wikipedia. But we also just about took out the natural world. Science, agriculture, and specialization have done a lot for expanding cultural ideas and communication, but they’ve done even more for genocide and ecocide.

So it’s time we give up the noble, failed experiment altogether and moved onto something new.

The book has several sections: the introduction, “Cooperative Scavenging”, “So You’ve Decided to Reject Civilization”, “How to Survive the Collapse of Civilization”, “The City That’s Not a City”, and “For Science to Live, Civilization Must Die”. It’s a short read, only about 30 pages, but fun, self-aware, and honest.

Highly recommended! Share it around, print it out, and share it even more.

My Business Is Our Business

I’ve been going on 4-5 months now unemployed. I’ve sent probably a hundred resumes, applications, and inquiry emails over that time, and the only responses I got was to tell me that I was overqualified to work at a grocery store. Thanks for nothing, job market.

But on Sunday I found myself hanging out with some cousins, one of whom was showing us all the delicious Mexican food this little old lady makes for their family on a weekly basis. They pay her, they pick it up from her house, and they munch on it all week like leftovers. And I thought to myself, holy cannoli, could do that! Not only do I love to cook, but I love to cook things that 99% of people don’t even know how to. So after ballparking how much food costs, how long it takes me to cook in general, and then throwing together a basic menu of things that look impressive but are either 1. made of cheap, simple ingredients, or 2. made of a few exotic ingredients that I already use in cooking for myself. All that was left to put an ad on Craigslist and wait.

It didn’t even take long, though. It took all of 24 hours to secure a first client who wants meals for his daughter who has a very long list of no-no foods. She needs to be vegan, gluten-free, soy-free, peanut-free, and baker’s-yeast free, among a smattering of other fruits and veggies she’s sensitive to. Honestly, I can do that, no problem. I’ve learned so many tricks over the past 2 years since getting stomach problems of my own that I can cook for practically anybody. I did get another email almost right away too: someone who’s been doing this for a long time sent me a frustrated note, saying that I was charging too little, and that was not only undervaluing myself, but other people who do this sort of work too. I apologized, noted that I was pretty desperate, but that I would raise my rates for the next client.

But that got me to thinking. Was I really undercharging? How did all of this relate to my politics?

After spending a few minutes with a calculator at this point I estimated that I would be making the least amount of money per hour of cooking than I would if I had more clients; and right now that comes out to be about minimum wage, ~$10/hr. But then I thought about how that didn’t factor in the time it took me to go shopping, and other related tasks. That’s when the anti-money anarchist started coming out. Why do I need to be paid to go shopping at all the places that I already do my own shopping? To walk/bike to and from the store? Not only are these things that I already do for myself, but they’re things that are good for me too. If I just shift my point of view a little bit, I can transform that tiresome errand into the world’s cheapest gym membership. Or if I twist things a little more, I can even see it as being paid to exercise and go for walks. How lucky am I?

I thought some more at this point about the profit motive, and how ruthlessly wasteful it is. How much of a profit do I want to make? How involved do I want this venture to be? Would I still do it  even if I got no money for it? Does this have any place in my ideal community?

I want enough money to get by, at the end of the day. But this is funny to me because my father says the same thing, and to me, he lives extravagantly. Upper-middle class for sure. But to him, any decline in his quality of living, any downsizing, any withholding of material desires, doesn’t even enter into his mind as a possibility. Which is just completely alien to me. So right now, I just want to be able to make my loan payments, move to Canada to be with my hubs, and have a garden. I don’t want a car, house, or a $2000 sofa. I don’t want a Vitamix or a Cuisinart stand mixer. No Keurig, no PS4, no Dyson. Nothing I can’t buy used (well… mostly). In other words, I’d love to be able to live off $1000/mo. Unfortunately, my school loans are almost 3/4 of that right now. I can’t wait to be debt-free.

The other fun thing is that I get to take over another person’s meals and get close to being ZW with the buying and preparation. But looking at the wider picture, I’m in the perfect position to offer this service and do it the way that I am. I happen to be located at a nexus of health food stores and farmer’s markets, many of which are within walking distance. Most people in Los Angeles aren’t nearly as lucky as I am, so I get to help them offset a little bit of their carbon footprint this way also.

All in all though, I am OK with doing what I’m doing and in the way I’m doing it. I love to cook, and I love to cook for others, so this is a healthy thing for me to do, and the money is just the icing on the cake, really. Why should I charge more? I’m not greedy, I just want to survive and not be miserable. If I get to make great, healthy food for others AND support local farmers on their dime? Score.