Faith is like gravity, Truth is like light

It would be really hard to walk anywhere if there was no gravity, no traction. I need my faith for traction and sense of direction. But truth is even more important than love, I had to tell my kids (they were a little taken aback). Without light, you could walk right off a cliff or hurt your knee on a pointy object. But light without gravity would be pretty frustrating. I'd just be directionless, floating, and without much purpose.

Anti-Robot Ideas (software)

(11-24-2007)  You know those "zombie" programs that send spam from unsuspecting computer owners machines? Why doesn't someone design an anti-spam robot, which would auto-click or auto-respond to all the spam, with false credit card numbers, false orders, false sales?

Another idea for privacy advocates, rather than try to "mask" or "delete" website info from our PCs, why don't we do what nature does... Not invisibility, but "camouflage". A "cookie camouflage" program would install cookies and html records from everywhere. It would indicate we all buy tobacco online, we all drink, are all shopping for a new car, we all visit porn sites, we all do everything any privacy harvesting program would look for. If enough people ran the "cookie camouflage" program, the data would become useless.

I came up with these 2 ideas about 8 or 9 years ago, in Boston, and thought someone smarter than me would have done them by now. Maybe it's a dumb idea and I am not smart enough to understand why. Would not be the first time.

[ This topic was updated in 2010.  5 or 6 months after this post, CNET covered  a program to do just what is described - Antiphorm.   In 2011, I've scoured the internet (well, 2-3 google pages worth) and have not been able to find the program.   It's like Jason Bourne.  We'll see if the CNET article disappears, and then if I disappear.  Actually, Jason Bourne was all about covering his tracks, not re-crossing his tracks to make duplicates.  Why internet privacy is so centered on erasing rather than "poisoning the well" with false leads?  Sometimes, I think that the threat to law enforcement, Google ads, Bing, and the Chinese Communist Party make it too costly to pursue.  Sometimes, I think we just don't care as much about our web privacy as we think we do.  If anyone can find a place to download antiphorm or similar "cookie camouflage" program, please post it here.  Postscript 9-21-2011 ]

Palestine, Thanksgiving and Ghandi

Yesterday was thanksgiving, and it was a little different than most I remember. My wife and kids were in Paris (not celebrating), my parents and I did not get together (I'd just been there for a funeral last weekend), and I still have guests at my house. Fahiri 'Fred' Somda is the ex Atty General of Burkina Faso, Dolores and Lydia are two of 'Los Chicas Bravas', our women's coop partner for Retroworks de Mexico, Tito and his daughter Maria came by (American of Puerto Rican descent living in Middlebury at my house, doing translation for Las Chicas), and Souleymane Sao was here from Senegal, a computer buyer who is inspecting and testing equipment before it goes on a container for Africa next week. Earlier in the day I was on skype with Hamdy, a business partner in Cairo who is of Palestinian descent. Oh, and an old aqaintence from Fayetteville High School, Sarah, who I ran into at the wake, chatted with me by email. Friendship with Sarah is as surreal as the others to me, I knew her when I was really immature and she was a head cheerleader, so knockout gorgeous I could never muster much conversation. Thirty years later, we are becoming friends from The Big Chill.

Turkey, stuffing, giblet gravy, corn on the cob, broccoli and sugersnap peas, etc.

Late into the evening Soule and Fahiri and I stayed up talking world politics. Souley has a lot of energy, he's married to an American (niece of John Kerry) but lives most of the year in Dakar. He and I had some great arguments, I think he enjoys going too far in vehemence as much as I do, and we were unchained from our better halves who might have added oil to the water.

What I love about argument and dialectic is that it stirs my brain. Even getting a little angry or offended is a shock to the corners of the mind, it stirs the water.

Talking about the photos in National Geographic of the lines to get through the new Israeli wall, Soule was reminded of experiences he has had under Patriot Act, as a citizen, being "profiled" etc. Things he's justifiably pissed about. But I feel the wall is as much a product of the Intifada as if the Palestinians laid the bricks. There were people blowing themselves up in buses. Then there weren't.

Soule felt I was condoning the wall as a "solution". I wasn't but after an hour or two of arguing, here's the position I came away with.

Saudi power has its roots in appeasement with fundamentalist bedouin Islam... I think the Wahabi sect is kind of like the Pentacostal sect in my home in Arkansas. Some Christian evangelicals thought it a good idea to blow up abortion clinics, and some Wahabi thought it a good idea to blow up a broader range of secular targets.

What made the difference between the two is that the Saudi's have the curse of natural resources, a lot of money without a lot of "buy in" from a broad range of people. When you have wealth created by manufacturing or re-manufacturing (repair), it's trade based, and you have face-to-face with clients. You LEARN to really like clients, not just pretend to like them. Even if you think they are obnoxious, when they are doing business and sending you money or product or labor, you mentally rationalize them as friends. With petroleum or mining, you get money from a spigot with virtually no employment or responsibility experience.

The Saudi money, hardline wahabi roots, were used as a tool against the Soviets in Afganistan, of course with a lot of USA assistance.

The USSR was going to fold anyway, it was a house of cards at that point. Nuclear weapons and a space program aside, the economy was overextended. Sending hard line religious extremists in to do the fighting was a tax that hastened a fall.

The veteran jihadists came away with the idea that with divine grace they brought down the USSR superpower.

What would have made all the difference would be if Ghandi had emerged, or an Islamic Ghandi, and opposed the Russians the way India opposed the British rule. If passive resistance had been tried in Afganistan, the USSR would have folded, I think. Or they would have moved south and threatened Iran, and Iran woud be our buddy today vs. th Soviets. But I think Gorby would still have folded his cards.

I think Israeli/Palestinian conflict would have been the ideal place for passive resistance. It could have stopped the settlements.

Now I'm someone who is grateful we invaded Normandy Beach and Iwo Jima, and I think Western Europe and Japan/South Korea are the best testaments to the USA doing vastly unpopular things (entry into those conflicts was opposed by 90% of Americans during FDR's run for office... 70% of Americans were against even sending scrap metal to England to defend itseld during the air blitzkrieg of London). I am not a pacifist.

I just think that the Palestine situation is the ideal place for Ghandi, King or Mandela. The blowing up yourself in a bus or mall tactic led to the wall, and reduced trade (client, employee, other economic relationships).

If you have trade, you wind up with Senegalese muslims staying at your home, helping the Mexican ladies do dishes, talking late into the night with Burkinabe catholic (ex-divinity school student), testing equipment with unemployed Vermonters. I think the "buy local", anti-globalization movement has its place, but we can't save the elephants without dinner conversations with Africans.

Dogon (Fahiri's tribe) of Burkina by the way culturally distains gold. That's an idea would do the planet some good.


If there was one subject I wish I had studied more about, it is history.

The use of gold to rapidly develop wilderness is a fascinating subject. The California gold rush, the Yukon gold rush, the Spanish rush to latinize America. It only takes about 5% of people to rush into a place (such as Borneo) looking for shiny yellow metal, and next thing there are trails and roads and consumer access to primate 'bushmeat'.

The price of gold is justified by how much work it took to find / get / extract it, and by widespread demand.

Alchemy Legislation: Last Man Standing

Fresh on my feet after the tremblement de terre for mining subsidies (USA House of Representatives is moving on the first reform of the General Mining Act of 1872), I am on my way to a meeting in Waterbury, Vermont, about "e-waste" legislation. A group of gung-ho recyclers wants to meet to solve the "problem of e-waste".

These are all people I like. I want to be their friend, like really, socially. These are the peoople I like to hang out with. I like my kids to be best friends with their kids. The activist environmentalists represent my own roots. But sometimes it's like a visit to the Old Country for me, like a trip to the Ozarks (for me) or a trip to Italy or Senegal might be for someone with Italian or African roots in NYC.

The problem we (if I can put myself back among them without too many scowls) face is when we eliminate dialectic (argument) in order to taste momentum and progress. The problems of the world, and especially the environmental threats, are so large, that without a feeling of momentum, the alternative is despair.

So the new thing in government is to set up these mega-focus-groups, you bring in all kinds of advocates and experts to form a big "task force". NEPSI was a big one. There is another about "EPA Certification" of electronics recyclers which I was on, and now seem to have fallen off the email list and don't get invited to meetings anymore.

The groups are great. Getting 45-60 people concerned about e-scrap in a room is a real high. There are networking opportunities, and fresh voices and a lot of argument and energy. Some try to raise themselves as pack leaders, but generally the facilitator and milktoast spokespeople are rewarded for being least fractious.

This makes difficult ideas hard to pitch. The first "NEPSI" meeting really (in my view) should have quickly focused on the General Mining Act of 1872, or on a recent $900M Grupo Mexico environmental trust fund (created as a compromise on cleanup costs at old Asarco copper mines), or even the Microsoft Settlement (twas' Windows 98 killed the 486, twas Windows XP killed the Pentium I).

Retailers blink. Manufacturers smirk (knowing the truth of #3, but scared to death of #1). Lobbyists are already thinking ahead to the next play. Ecologists are planning what they are going to say next.

You see, it's impossible to get a major idea about nutrition past a bunch of people gathered for a meeting about bowel movements. They can only look so far up the intestine. They think purchasing a computer is the "cradle" in cradle-to-grave. Mining silver from a Malaysian coral reef is shopping at the supermarket, so far from the colon it's hard to discuss.

Feeding mercury to King George improved his bowel movements. So the group starts to focus on "collection" programs, and "financing collection".

Now money is introduced, and there is an incentive for about 25% of the attendees to attend up to 24 more months of meetings.

The group winds up allowing a sub-committee to meet to discuss details of one of the more interesting, generic statements which could involve money. Say Legislation should be introduced to provide money for mercury to improve bowel movements.

I don't have time or money to fly around the country for 23 more months. SO I spit out everything. People look at me cockheaded. I get labelled "difficult".

I call it "Last Man Standing". The small group writes the final text.

The greater hope of Alchemy medecine was that the people involved really, really did care about King George. They really cared about the health cures that more mercury for more bowels could provide. Caring is the first thing, because it is caring about outcomes that causes the next generation of med school students to question holistic consequences of the cure.

This turned into a whole academia of approaches to science and health science. This is what the younger generation needs to do with great ideas and near miss legislative solutions.

135 Years - The General Mining Act 1872

Finally, thanks to continued hard work by Stephen D'Esposito, Payal Sampat, and the staff at Earthworks ( , the House of Representatives has put forward a bill to charge federal royalties on minerals mined from federal land. The taxpayers would, under the new law, receive 8% of the royalties on gold, copper, silver etc. Perhaps it will be enough to fund Superfund to clean up these mining sites.

It's a boon for recycling. Recycling competes against virgin material.

It's a boon for greenhouse gas reductions. When metals are artificially cheap, big gas-hungry SUVs don't cost as much more as small cars.

It may be a boon to the environment. But only if other countries follow suit. If 3rd worlds states like DR Congo don't ALSO charge more royalties, the effect could be perverse... less mining in the relatively more regulated USA (that point is arguable) and more mining in the rain forests and coral reefs.


Silverback dead on the cover of Newsweek, from Virunga mountain. Seven dead gorillas total, 1% of all mountain gorillas left worldwide.

I visited there (Virunga gorilla refuge) in 1984.

The article, and National Geographic articles, attribute most species loss today to mining and forestry. In the case of forests, its obvious to go where the forests are. With mining, there may be deposits closer to cities but no one in his right mind would try to mine where people can see the pollution and destruction.

I went into recycling before Mobro because of things like this. They build roads into the wilderness, and it ruins the wilderness. If you take just 1,000 people into an area where there were no people before, it's trouble for big animals. And I despair, it just takes one asshole out of the thousand to kill a gorilla.

No one reads blogger

The fact no one reads these blogs, or at least those on the google blogger, is both discouraging and emancipating.

Clarence "Pa" Fisher

My grandpa, Clarence Fisher, 90, goes under the knife today at 1:30 central, same time as I go into the dentist chair in VT.

They had him open once before but closed him back up, saying it was too risky. So that means I guess that it's crossed a line.

Pa Fisher taught me to work hard and taught me to storytell. He taught me that the sweatiest old dirtfarmer or carpenter-man could be a Mensa in the rough. I've learned that poverty doesn't mean you are good or smart, but that if the poverty is regionalized (everyone in that country is poor) that statistically the chances are good that you will find a bargain smart person there.

Women's issues is like a region, in that way, and the 98 Economics Prize guy (?Amartya Sen?) demonstrated how much you sacrifice in your economy if you sideline the women.

American knows not to sideline guys like Pa.

That's where democracy works, quite simply, by increasing the number of people with a statistical chance to show their worth. My admiration for Pa went from ignorance to romaniticizing the poverty to just simply recognizing a poor man's capacity to be smarter than me.

good luck, grandma and pa.

A review of other blogs out there

The better blogs I've looked at try to be less profound, they say less. Some are also less accurate when it comes to recycling facts.

Easier and nicer to read, in other words.

Some say recycling is all hype, that the free market should drive it. That is correct, a "free" market would drive it. It is virtually impossible to throw away a cardboard box in a country which does not have government or institutional subsidies on virgin product. This has commonly been attributed to low wages, but that is a false indicator - the wages are also low at mines and forests in those countries, yet they recover recyclables at a higher rate. It has been blamed on poor solid waste management collection, and its true that the longer waste is exposed the less recyclables are in it, but even in Hong Kong and Signapore (which have excellent trash collection, high wages, and extremely high real estate prices) you will find the trash trucks sorting, or people pre-sorting the trash for a second truck.

Part of the problem is Bureau of Land Management subsidies, which I've covered before... Senators from unpopulated states go for the Interior Dept. committee and act to maintain those subsidies (why would a senator from NY or MA or CA go for Interior, when Health or Finance or Foreign Affairs committees are more prestigious?).

Another weakness in free market itself is that the unborn (future generations) do not get to invest in stock. This puts a limit on appreciation of natural resources - an investment must pay off in the lifetime of the average investor. A 25 or 50 year ROI is considered "long term", meaning a project to liquidate the Amazon or all known petroleum reserves in 50 years would be a very long term economic view.

The recyclers are not led by people that don't understand business and the economy. We are led by people with a longer-term view.

Free will petri dish

I read an inspiring NYTimes article about Free Will this AM, and spoke with my brother about global warming and world population. It's halftime for my environmental life, and the world is looking bleak, and it's making me want to take more risks and shake things up.

There was another really touching article about a NYTimes editor whose husband wrote a 200 page journal for their infant, in case he got killed in combat in Iraq. He did. Made me want to write today. But it's probably garbage, just see it as an attempt to shake the rust off. I'll probably get provocative.

I've been a skeptic of global warming (climate change). Not skeptical that it is occurring, but skeptical that we haven't had lots of fluctuations like this over the course of the past 5,000 years - which isn't long in earth time. I am waiting to hear something definitive about the Mars poles, which are also receding.

But I'm starting to get this petri dish feeling. From high school biology class, where you put a fingerprint in a dish of gelatin, then observe how the fungus grows like mad for 2-3 days and then starves itself, drowning in its own filth.

I used to give a speech in high school (to garden clubs and at high school forensic events) which was mainly about recycling and mining subsidies, but the serious introduction had to do with the petri dish culture experiment. It was never my favorite speech, I like to open with a chuckle or self defacing anecdote. But on this one speech, at least for the Arkansas Garden Clubs or anti-Littering Club audiences, I always went for the gut punch. Society was wasting up my planet, and I was young enough to be concerned about it.

Now, I still am still open minded whether a few volcano eruptions in our recent past may have put us in the same spot we are now, and that cooling and warming may be a flea's perspective alarm. But when I see the Amazon rain forest and deep ocean beds being harvested without abatement, I see all the oxygen-converting going to hell, and see all the co2, and it looks like we are so dangerously out of balance that a tiny solar flare which would have been the weather blip of the past will now turn us into a toaster oven... I anticipate the following.

"Wait, no fair, we were just going to solve man-made global warming on a just-in-time inventory basis!"

I'm going to be 45 this month, pretty mid-life, and all I've done is tried to recycle as much as I pooped. I've tried to have a net-balance ledger which would put me in the place where my kids and kids-kids would see me as less responsible for the petri-dish escapade. Now I think it's pretty weak. To the degree I've done ok or well, I'm now just competing for someone else's job again, like when I had the recycling director or division deputy thing at MA DEP. I left there knowing it was in good hands, and the best I could do was break a few plates and leave the spot in the best position for those who inherited it. I had to be sure that the folks who stepped into my place at DEP were better for it than I was, and succeeded with mines and booby traps.

Both inside and outside of DEP, I found that environmentalists have way too little R&D. Many were willing to institute environmental 'remedies' with no more precautionary principal than Midgley (inventor of leaded gasoline). I came into a field under fire from a lot of well-meaning, half-baked, shoot from the hip ideas and solutions, and have tried to bring economic insights and free market it success. I tried to focus eco-attention on the economic subsidies (GENERAL MINING ACT OF 1872, for example). I once stuck a rock in the end of a sewage pipe in the Fayetteville AR city park, and probably thought more about it than the drafters of some "extended producer responsibility" mandates.

For the second half of my life, I guess my options are to 1) make sure I do a hell of a good job raising my kids, 2) learn to write better (I can have really good writing episodes, and also really over-labored exhausting episodes), and 3) offer fresh leads to young environmentalists who must be listening to us hoary old beer-drinking long-haired ecologists and wanting to do something which will break out.

I don't think attacking free trade, attacking the WTO, etc. is the way to go. I think understanding the WTO could actually allow us to use it to set back the environmental anti-subsidies, beit GMA1872, the consumer gold standard, lack of women's rights, etc.

Maybe I'll run across a young writer with the chutzpah to rattle the cages of my generation of eco-farts. We are a good bunch of people. There's really no better set of friends in my age group than the environmentalists. We are probably more open to the challenge than, say, middle American Christian evangelists.

Who are actually pretty good people too.

Hey, that reminds me of a digression which is proving kind of pivotal for my opinion of abortion. My opinion had been that I don't like it. My gut says it's not good. I've been very afraid to get myself into an abortion predicament, and that's probably for the best.

If you think abortion is murder, then, there's no way to be half-baked about it. As my sister said, if abortion is murder how could you be anything but the most strident opponent? How could you merely "disapprove?"

Then the smarter people I know kind of suggested that infanticide is just abortion for the world's poorest people. Yikes. That makes sense and I don't like it.

Then maybe hypothetically, this occurred to me. Supposing abortion is murder. Now suppose you know a woman who desperately wants to have a baby, and she has trouble getting pregnant. But she finally does, let's say, but it's early, one missed period, 7-8 weeks. She doesn't even want to let herself hope, or count her chickens. And she gets on a ride at the fair with her 15 year old niece, and the ride is way rougher than she expected. And that night she's vomiting and having all the signs of hemorrage and miscarriage.

If abortion is murder, could miscarriage be manslaughter?

I don't think so.

I don't think God has a plan and a reason to cause millions of miscarriages and that that's somehow different, that God wants this fetus but not that one.

Hey, I'm a genius. I start a recycling company, then I attack the environmentalists, and then I get into an online debate about abortion! Brilliant! This ranks up there with dumping a truckload of office paper on the streets of Cambridge, or backing a truck into a delivery van for a 200K computer at our largest client (both in the late 80s or early 90s).

Well, this blog is really just for a one in a million reader anyway.