Politicians Beware

Seth Godin describes how traditional political strategy clashes with the digital age of information.

Link: Meatball Sundae on Squidoo.

The traditional way to run a political campaign is to control your message. Control what you say and when you say it. Control who hears it.

Tell one story to your raving fans, and a more moderate story to people in the center.

As voters have seen again and again, politicians are good at this. Some people call it lying. But in general, politicians have gotten away with it.

The top-down, control-the-message strategy worked in the past for a few reasons:

* Media companies were complicit in not embarrassing the people they counted on to appear on their shows and authorize their licenses.
* Politicians could decide where and when to show up and could choose whether or not they wanted to engage.
* Bad news didn’t spread far unless it was exceptionally juicy.

But George Allen discovered that the rules have fundamentally changed. Allen’s challenger asked S.R. Sidarth, a senior at the University of Virginia, to trail Allen with a video camera. The idea was to document Allen’s travels and speeches. During a speech in Breaks, Virginia, Allen turned to Sidarth and said, "Let’s give a welcome to Macaca, here. Welcome to America and the real world of Virginia," said Allen.

… YouTube reports that Allen’s slur has been watched on YouTube more than 318,000 times. Add to that the pickup from the broadcast media (which picked it up because it was popular, not because it was "important"), and you see why George Allen lost the election.

The ironic part of the appearance is that the first words out of Allen’s mouth on the tape are, "Ladies and Gentlemen, we’re going to run positive campaign." The story didn’t match the facts, and the facts showed up on YouTube.

Breaking a Fluorescent Bulb can be dangerous

CFL bulbs contain mercury. If you break one, don’t use a vacuum to clean up.

A vacuum cleaner will spread mercury containing dust throughout the area as well as contaminating the vacuum.

Link: Fluorescent bulb information, Bureau of Remediation and Waste Management, Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

What if I accidentally break a fluorescent bulb in my home?

fluorescent bulbs

The most important thing to remember is to never use a vacuum . A standard vacuum will spread mercury containing dust throughout the area as well as potentially contaminating the vacuum. What you should do is:

  • Keep people and pets away from the breakage area so that the mercury in the powder inside the bulb is not accidentally tracked into other areas.
  • Ventilate the area by opening windows.
  • Wear appropriate personal protective equipment, such as rubber gloves, safety glasses, old clothing or coveralls, and a dust mask (if you have one) to keep bulb dust and glass from being inhaled.
  • Carefully remove the larger pieces and place them in a secure closed container, preferably a glass container with a metal screw top and gasket seal like a canning jar.
  • Next, begin collecting the smaller pieces and dust. You can use a disposable broom and dustpan or two stiff pieces of paper to scoop up pieces.
  • Put all material into the glass container. Pat the area with the sticky side of duct, packing or masking tape. Wipe the area with a damp cloth or paper towels to pick up fine particles.
  • Put all waste and materials used to clean up the bulb in the glass container and label it “Universal Waste – broken lamp”.
  • Take the container for recycling as universal waste.

The next time you replace a bulb, consider putting a drop cloth on the floor so that any accidental breakage can be easily cleaned up.

More information

History and facts on CFL breakage (pdf format)

The Future of Industrial Agriculture

Jeff Vail at the Rhizome blog analyzes the thought-provoking essays at The Oil Drum by Stuart Staniford and Sharon Astyk on the nexus of Peak Oil and agriculture, with Staniford suggesting that peak oil will not result in relocalization of agriculture because the industrialization of agriculture is a more efficient use of energy and is not practicably reversible, and Astyk rebutting that idea. Vail offers a third perspective: that we have insufficient information to reach a conclusion about when energy scarcity will result in relocalization of agriculture, but that we will likely cross this threshold in the not-too-distant future and should prepare accordingly.

Below is Vail’s summary of the arguments on industrial agriculture. Click on any of the links for more detail.

Link: Jeff Vail

A. Why would centralization of agriculture increase efficiency?

1. Economy of place: It is more efficient to grow oranges in Florida than in a heated greenhouse in upstate New York (or, to use the classic example, wine in Portugal than in England).
2. Economy of scale: It is more efficient for one man to grow ten orange trees than ten men to each grow one for a variety of reasons.
3. Specialization of knowledge processes: A contributor to #2 above, but particularly important in the era of increasingly scientific and knowledge intensive farming—farmers can afford to specialize in farming, whereas people who are only part-time farmers cannot to the same degree.
4. Justification for intensive capital expenditure: An industrial farmer can justify the expense of a complex combine harvester that automates processes, whereas a small holder may not be able to. (Stuart Staniford)

B. Why would decentralization of agriculture increase efficiency?

1. Transportation & operation cost: decentralized farming has the potential to require transportation over shorter distances to market than centralized farming, and therefore less embodied energy cost. Likewise, tractors and combines use oil, whereas hoeing and hand weeding do not.
2. Superior suitability for sustainable operation: for now, decentralized agriculture seems more capable of maintaining topsoil and is more adaptable to varying water regimes.
3. Greater resiliency to black swan & gray sway events: decentralized agriculture is less susceptible to terrorism, is more likely to incorporate the biodiversity necessary to overcome disease, and may be more adaptable in the face of global warming.
4. Less exposure to capital cost creep: decentralized agriculture is less dependent on expensive machinery that is subject to increasing cost as the cost of manufacture and raw materials increase. (Sharon Astyk)

Oil is the greatest problem of all time

I’ve been hoping that some really smart people would tackle the dependence on oil problem. Silicon Valley and Microsoft helped put PCs in every office and home when it seemed impossible, so why not solar-powered electric cars. I’m fed up with the defeatist attitude so common in the US of … "it will be 50 years before we can get off oil."

Here’s a glimmer of hope, inspired by Shimon Peres, the former Israeli Prime Minister and now President, who said: "I believe Israel should go from oil to solar energy. Oil is the greatest problem of all time—the great polluter and promoter of terror. We should get rid of it." He was addressing his feelings to Shai Agassi, who wants to design a practical and affordable electric car.

Shai Agassi (he lives in Silicon Valley) is the kind of person who might make it happen. Below are some excerpts from a BusinessWeek article about his plans.

Source: The Electric Car Acid Test: Shai Agassi’s audacious effort to end the era of gas-powered autos by Steve Hamm, BusinessWeek, Jan 24, 2008.

On Jan. 21, Agassi, Olmert, Peres, and Ghosn unveiled the novel project, under which Agassi’s Silicon Valley company, Better Place, will sell electric cars and build a network of locations where drivers can charge and replace batteries. Olmert has done his part, too. Israel just boosted the sales tax on gasoline-powered cars to as much as 60% and pledged to buy up old gas cars to get them off the road.

Agassi contends that Israel is just the start. He hopes to expand his business into several other countries over the next few years, with China, France, and Britain among the potential markets. Ultimately, he believes that his company and others like it could shake two pillars of the global economy, the $1.5 trillion-a-year auto industry and the $1.5 trillion-a-year market for gasoline. "If what I’m saying is right, this would be the largest economic dislocation in the history of capitalism," says Agassi.

Yet soaring oil prices and the threat of global warming give Agassi an opening. Governments worldwide, like Israel, are getting more serious about reducing their dependence on oil and are more concerned about the effect of carbon emissions on climate change. And the auto industry is placing large bets on alternative power vehicles like never before.

Agassi does bring a new perspective to the alternative fuel world. The trouble with traditional electric cars is that they can go only 50 or 100 miles and then they need to stop for hours to recharge their batteries. Hybrids overcome the mileage limitations, but only by burning gasoline. One of Agassi’s unconventional ideas is to separate the battery from the car. That will allow drivers to pull into a battery-swapping station, a car-wash-like contraption, and wait for 10 minutes while their spent batteries are lowered from the car and fully charged replacements are hoisted into place. Better Place will build the service stations, as well as hundreds of thousands of charging locations, similar to parking meters.

Agassi’s other unusual idea is for Better Place to operate as something akin to a mobile-phone carrier. He plans to sell electric cars to consumers at a relatively low price and then charge them monthly operating fees. The total cost of owning an electric car, including the up-front price and ongoing operating expenses, is expected to be less than that of a conventional car.

What got Carlos Ghosn (chief executive of Renault and Nissan) excited was Israel’s willingness to slash import taxes for green vehicles and alter domestic sales taxes in ways that would make the economics of the plan work. "This is a unique situation," says Ghosn. "It’s the first mass marketplace for electric cars under conditions that make sense for all the parties." As a result of getting involved, the Nissan-Renault Alliance has made electric autos a top priority. Initially, the companies expect to produce electric cars for Israel and other countries by modifying existing models, but eventually they plan to introduce new models designed from the ground up to run on batteries developed by Nissan.

Immediately after the Davos meetings, Peres urged Agassi to take on Project Better Place as his own business. Agassi was in line for the CEO job at SAP, but Peres challenged him to change course: "In your young life, there’s nothing better you could do." A few days later Hasso Plattner, SAP’s chairman, called Agassi to say CEO Henning Kagermann had signed on for two more years. Since that would push back Agassi’s opportunity to move into the CEO spot, he saw it as a sign that he was free to leave and pursue other career paths. He quit on the spot, though two months went by before his departure was final.

He felt strongly about the need for a peaceful resolution to Middle East conflicts, and he figured that one way to reduce tensions was to reduce dramatically the world’s dependency on oil. He had chosen Project Better Place as the name for his project because of the challenge to the Young Global Leaders a year earlier to try to make the world a better place. He couldn’t think of anything more important he wanted to do.

By spring, Agassi was refining his business ideas. Those years at SAP gave him a unique perspective on overcoming the hurdles to widespread electric vehicle adoption. He saw that the vehicles needed an infrastructure comparable to NetWeaver to make them viable. On a 10-hour flight from Tel Aviv to New York, he laid out the core business model for Better Place.

During the summer, he concentrated on raising money. His big break came during a meeting with Israel Corp.’s Ofer last June. Agassi was in Israel to raise money from the country’s leading industrial families. One of Agassi’s allies, investor Michael Granoff of Maniv Investments, a New York company that concentrates on alternative energy investing, arranged a meeting on June 12 in Ofer’s office on the 23rd floor of the Millennium office tower—with a panoramic view of the coast. Agassi laid out the economic rationale for electric vehicles and explained his business plan. As he wrapped up, Ofer quipped to one of his colleagues: "I guess we’ll have to sell the refineries."

Agassi couldn’t guess where the conversation would go next. He had to rush to a meeting with Peres, but Ofer accompanied him down to the lobby. As they said their goodbyes, Ofer leaned forward and delivered some stunning news: "I’m going to invest in this, and I’m going to be your biggest investor. I’ll put in $100 million." A flabbergasted Agassi didn’t know how real the pledge was, but when the initial round of $200 million in funding for Better Place came together last October, Ofer kept his word. Agassi lined up a wide range of other investors, including investment bank Morgan Stanley (MS).

In December, Agassi saw his dream come one step closer to reality. With his backers in place and the company’s launch scheduled, he took a test drive in a Renault that his employees had converted to run on electricity. The modified Renault Mégane is capable of going from zero to 60 in eight seconds and has a top speed of 130.

Awakened by a Coyote Pack

Last night at 3:40am I was awakened by the sound of a coyote howling. Even though I’ve heard this same sequence (howl, pursuit, frenzy, quiet) a dozen times in the last five years, it still gets my adrenaline going.

The coyote was howling to call in the pack scouts to work a hot trail. As the scouts joined in the chase, the yipping got louder and more frenzied. While it was probably only four or five coyotes, it sounded like three times that many as their excitement grew and they closed in on the critter that they were chasing.

The yipping became a high pitching shrieking as they caught the prey. We couldn’t tell whether it was a large prey like a deer or a small animal like a rabbit, but soon after the shrieking climaxed, all went quiet.

Last night, they were close to our backyard when they made the kill. (I wish I had some night vision goggles.)

I finally got back to sleep several hours later.

Here’s a YouTube audio that sounds a lot like what we heard last night:

The Secret of Great Smoothies

Blenderandsmoothie

I drink a lot of smoothies. Not long ago I started having a problem: my smoothies weren’t so smooth, especially since I quit adding tofu. (I’ve become suspious of soy since I learned about Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybean seeds, which are engineered to withstand Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, enabling farmers to spray their fields with the herbicide without damaging their soybean crops. Also, there are several nutritional experts who insist that soy is bad for us.)

The secret to a creamy smoothie is xanthan gum. You don’t need much — a quarter teaspoon per 10 ounces of liquid.

Also, I highly recommend blueberries, for health reasons. Life Extension Magazine says:

A rich source of disease-fighting antioxidants, blueberries have demonstrated a remarkable ability to reverse the effects of aging on the brain, helping to restore memory and cognition to a more youthful state.

Blueberries also appear to help ward off deadly cancers, while protecting cells against damage incurred by diabetes. Blueberries may even help prevent bothersome urinary tract infections.

In short, incorporating these delicious, nutritious berries in your diet may provide a wealth of important health benefits.

I buy frozen blueberries and put about 25 – 50 in my smoothie before I blend. I like to include some flax seed powder and lecithin. Then I turn the blender on for about 30 seconds. Finally, I add a handful of almonds — I only blend for about 10 seconds so the almonds are not liquified (I like the crunch).

More posts about Monsanto:

Are you eating Monsanto’s genetically modified crops?

Monsanto’s Government Ties

Monsanto Backs Off Bio-Wheat

Shining a Light on Agribusiness and It’s Poster Child Monsanto

Monsanto Files Patent for the Pig

Are you eating Monsanto’s genetically modified crops?

The cover story of the December 17, 2007 issue of BusinessWeek was titled Monsanto: Winning the Ground War – How the company turned the tide in the battle over genetically modified crops. Writer Brian Hindo has done us all a service by alerting us to the momentum that Monsanto is enjoying.

This is really bad news for those of us who prefer to eat high quality, organically grown food.

Below are some excerpts from the article and my thoughts on key issues.

Link: Monsanto: Winning the Ground War

While a vocal band of opponents is still protesting biotech crops, a growing multitude of farmers around the world is planting them. The reason is no mystery: Monsanto seeds contain genes that kill bugs and tolerate weed-killing pesticides. So they are much easier and cheaper to grow than traditional seeds. More than half the crops grown in the U.S., including nearly all the soybeans and 70% of the corn, are genetically modified. Just five years ago, China, India, and Brazil planted virtually no genetically engineered crops. Now Brazil can barely build roads fast enough to get all of its biotech soybeans from the fertile interior Mato Grosso state out to ports.

Brazil is clear-cutting the rain forests to grow soybeans. Destruction of the rain forests could eliminate the greatest source of medicinal plants and animals in the world.

Farmers in China and India, meanwhile, planted more than 17 million acres of biotech crops last year. These three countries are now three of the six largest GMO-planting nations in the world, as measured by area planted. At a time when organic food is more popular than ever, about 7% of the world’s entire farmland acreage is now planted with genetically modified crops—the ultimate anti-organic food.

We don’t know the long-term effects of eating foods that were genetically modified. We may know in several decades. By that time, the cross pollenation of GMO crops could mean that there are no traditional seeds left.

The battle over genetically modified food is being won not in scientific journals but on the ground. Global demand for food and fuel have made farmers ever eager to squeeze more yield from an acre of dirt. And the undeniable fact is that during the 12 years since the first biotech seeds were planted, the most dire predictions of Monsanto’s opponents have so far failed to come true. That’s prompted some swaggering at company headquarters. In interviews with BusinessWeek, Monsanto executives variously described the safety objections of adversaries as "scare tactics," "Chicken Little theatrics, "mischief," and "misinformation."

What are the effects of GMO stimulated crops on the top soil? What happens when oil-based fertilizers are too expensive to supplement depleted top soil?

Now, Monsanto GMOs still enter the human food supply, but only indirectly, in the form of processed grain products such as cornstarch, corn syrup, or cooking oil. In fact, in the U.S., about 60% to 70% of all "formulated foods"—processed food with more than one ingredient—contain GMOs, according to the Grocery Manufacturers Assn. That means, essentially, if you see it in a box or a can at a U.S. grocery store, there’s a strong likelihood that it has at least a small quantity of biotech ingredients. The lone table-ready GMO food Monsanto sells is virus-resistant squash, a product it inherited in 2005 with its acquisition of vegetable seed company Seminis. The company says it has no plans at the moment to make more GMO veggies. While Monsanto executives don’t believe they are gambling, there are still plenty of doubters.

In August, Kroger (KR) became the latest U.S. grocery chain to stop selling milk with a GMO bovine growth hormone that increases production, which Monsanto first started selling in 1994. All summer, activists in France trampled fields of biotech crops. Hostility toward GMO foods continues to be widespread in Africa and parts of Asia and Western Europe. This type of persistent opposition is one reason why the investment research firm Innovest Strategic Value Advisors, which gives companies a type of credit rating based on their strategic risk profile, assigns Monsanto a "CCC" grade—its lowest possible mark. "Monsanto is basically saying that its products are very well regulated and therefore safe," says Heather Langsner, director of research for Innovest. "It’s a lot more murky than that."

I have reduced my consumption of soy products since I learned about Monsanto’s Roundup Ready soybean seeds. The seeds are engineered to withstand Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide, enabling farmers to spray their fields with the herbicide without damaging their soybean crops. I don’t want to eat soy products that were designed to be sprayed with Roundup. (I know that these soybeans are not supposed to be used for human food, but who can be sure?) Also, what is the Roundup runoff doing to the local animals, plants, and streams near the huge fields that are regularly sprayed with Roundup?

More posts about Monsanto:

Monsanto’s Government Ties

Monsanto Backs Off Bio-Wheat

Shining a Light on Agribusiness and It’s Poster Child Monsanto

Monsanto Files Patent for the Pig

Let’s stop waiting, whining, worrying, and wishing

Some inspiring words from Seth Godin.

Link: Seth’s Blog: Only two years left

While Detroit’s car companies have been whining about gas prices and bad publicity for SUVs (SUVs are among their most profitable products), Honda has been busy building cars that look like SUVs but get twice the gas mileage. The Honda Pilot was so popular, it had a waiting list.

While Africa’s economic plight gets a fair amount of worry, a little startup called Kickstart is actually doing something about it.

While you’ve been wishing for the inspiration to start something great, thousands of entrepreneurs have used the prevailing sense of uncertainty to start truly remarkable companies.

The thing is, we still live in a world that’s filled with opportunity. In fact, we have more than an opportunity — we have an obligation. An obligation to spend our time doing great things. To find ideas that matter and to share them. To push ourselves and the people around us to demonstrate gratitude, insight, and inspiration. To take risks and to make the world better by being amazing.

So stop thinking about how crazy the times are, and start thinking about what the crazy times demand. There has never been a worse time for business as usual. Business as usual is sure to fail, sure to disappoint, sure to numb our dreams. That’s why there has never been a better time for the new. Your competitors are too afraid to spend money on new productivity tools. Your bankers have no idea where they can safely invest. Your potential employees are desperately looking for something exciting, something they feel passionate about, something they can genuinely engage in and engage with.

You get to make a choice. You can remake that choice every day, in fact. It’s never too late to choose optimism, to choose action, to choose excellence. The best thing is that it only takes a moment — just one second — to decide.