Best Wishes for 2011

I’m going to take a break until after New Years. I need some time away to get refreshed. I wish all a happy and productive 2011. But before I go, I have a few thoughts coming from my teaching at the Marlboro College Graduate Center MBA in Managing for Sustainability. I have just finished teaching my course on sustainable consumption. The experience has been both illuminating and chastening. I have discovered that the treatment of consumption on which I based a significant part of my book, Sustainability by Design, is too simplistic to account for all the intricacies behind consumption–sustainable or not. The model of addiction I used remains convincing… Read More

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Efficiency Does Not Equal Sustainability

The current issue of The New Yorker has a well-developed article by David Owen (subscription needed to read the whole article) on the dilemma of efficiency improvements in energy usage. The phrase, more efficient, sounds at first like something that always should be good for us. The dilemma is that this is not always true is a paradox. Don’t more efficient automobiles get more miles to the gallon? Isn’t this the definition of efficiency? The answer is yes to both. What could be bad about that? The hitch is that the potential savings are spent on doing more with the new, more efficient thing, or spending the the savings on… Read More

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The Commodification of College Degrees

The national news tonight featured a story about college cheating. It was not the usual talk about plagiarism, but rather about the prevalence of paying for “original” papers. The story featured “Ed,” who has been making a very good living composing student papers on just about any subject. Ed counts his output over the years in the thousands. Finding a source of papers is about as easy as buying a textbook on Amazon, the newscast asserts. Ed claims to get much of his input for the papers through Google searches and from Amazon book extracts. How lazy can the students be not to do the same searching and avoid the… Read More

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Looking for the Christmas Spirit

Christmas season is always a time of contrasts. The Holy versus the commercial. The pious versus the semi- and non-believers. Bach and Handel’s magnificent liturgical music versus Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer. My own Holiday is Chanukah, which fell so early this year that it is already come and gone. I may well be blinded by my awareness of the contradictions about Christmas that I fail to see the similarity with Chanukah. The musical analogy is missing and the commercial aspect is perhaps more muted, although the serious observers offer gifts on every one of the eight days. But the gap between the believers and their opposites is to be found… Read More

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Nobelist Mario Vargas Llosa Gets It Right

I saw this short statement by Mario Vargas Llosa, who is in Stockholm awaiting the award of his Nobel Prize for Literature. Vargas Llosa, criticized “today’s fast-paced information society, saying it limits peoples’ depth of thinking and is a major problem for culture,” singling out the the entertainment industry for producing what he called a culture of “banalization, frivolization, and superficiality.” “I think the audiovisual revolution, which is fantastic from a technological point of view, has introduced the idea that the main goal of culture is entertainment.” “Of course, culture is also entertainment, but if it is only entertainment, the result is the disappearance of long-range vision and deep preoccupation… Read More

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Narcissism and Normal Behavior

The NYTimes recently carried an article about the debate about leaving or omitting narcissism in the forthcoming, updated version of the American Psychiatric Association’s influential Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. The DSM sets forth the authoritative criteria used by medical professionals to diagnose and treat mental disorders. Narcissism, the article points out, falls into the class of “so-called personality disorders.” People with this characteristic behavior are “severely” disabled. Narcissism was always a natural. Its technical definition describes a devastatingly vulnerable person, compensating for a deeply imprinted inadequacy with a desperate need for admiration, and a grandiose self-image. “When you see extreme examples of this or other personality disorders,… Read More

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The Magic in Smallness

I think the picture has it backwards. Fritz Schumacher’s Small Is Beautiful has much to offer still 37 years after it was published. Perhaps the most persistent remnant is the concept of appropriate technology, developing and using tools fitted to the local culture. His concerns were mostly about the importing, then and now, of technology willy-nilly to the developing world without regard to how it would be used in practice as opposed to the designers’ theory, and how it might negatively impact local cultural structure. He was one of the first to point to the weaknesses of GDP as an indicator of social well being. Implicit in much of his… Read More

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