Archive for the ‘resilient communities’ Category

Republican Anarchism/Libertarian Republicanism

Aibreán 17, 2009

This in response to a thread at

Some extracts on Libertarian Republicanism, and the adaptation of universalist, general ideas to local, specific contexts —

Republican ideals & Anarchist thought:

“Two substantive aspects of anarchist thought…: the alternative conception of social contract elaborated in Proudhon’s ‘mutualism’ as a way of addressing the tendency towards factions or ‘coalitions of the willing’ in international society; and the wider influence of ‘republican’ ideals of civic virtue on anarchist thinking leading to a ‘republican anarchist’ conception of the society of states – an inchoate international republicanism without the state – where state autonomy is integrated with active participation in issues concerning the ‘common good’.”
Kazmi, Zaheer. “Rethinking Anarchy: ‘Classical’ Anarchist Thought and International Society” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Studies Association, Le Centre Sheraton Hotel, Montreal, Quebec, Canada, Mar 17, 2004. 2009-04-14

Thomas Jefferson’s “Little Republics” and the United Irishmen:

Jefferson’s proposal of the ward republic represented an attempt on his part to supply greater security to the political rights of citizens by overcoming anemia (a potential vulnerability in liberal polities) and encouraging citizen vigilance.
Webb, Derek. “Jefferson’s Ward Republic: Political Rights and an Engaged Citizenry” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The Midwest Political Science Association, Palmer House Hilton, Chicago, Illinois, . 2009-02-05

Thomas Jefferson idealistically remained attached to and hopeful of putting into practice his classical republican ideas. This paper analyzes Jefferson’s ward democracies and how they intended to support public education and active citizenship.
“… ward republics, which were to be divisions within each county ‘of such size as that every citizen can attend, when called on, and act in person’ to govern locally… Unlike many of the founders, Jefferson believed that a republic must be established on more than mere consent, and many of his republican proposals were considered by his critics to be of the ‘levelling’ sort… he was advocating his ‘little republics… where every man is a sharer in the direction of his ward… and feels that he is a participant in the government… not merely at an election one day in the year, but every day…”
Dotts, Brian. “Thomas Jefferson’s Ward Republics and a Defense of Classical Republicanism” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The Midwest Political Science Association, Palmer House Hilton, Chicago, Illinois, Apr 20, 2006 . 2009-02-05

Among the thousands of political refugees who flooded into the United States during the late-eighteenth and early-nineteenth centuries, none had a greater impact on the early republic than the United Irishmen. They were, according to one Federalist, “the most God-provoking Democrats on this side of Hell.” “Every United Irishman,” insisted another, “ought to be hunted from the country, as much as a wolf or a tyger.” […]
[…] America served a powerful symbolic and psychological function for the United Irishmen as a place of wish-fulfillment, where the broken dreams of the failed Irish revolution could be realized. The United Irishmen established themselves on the radical wing of the Republican Party, and contributed to Jefferson’s “second American Revolution” of 1800; John Adams counted them among the “foreigners and degraded characters” whom he blamed for his defeat. After Jefferson’s victory, the United Irishmen set out to destroy the Federalists and democratize the Republicans. Some of them believed that their work was preparing the way for the millennium in America. Convinced that the example of America could ultimately inspire the movement for a democratic republic back home, they never lost sight of the struggle for Irish independence. It was the United Irishmen[…] who originated the persistent and powerful tradition of Irish-American nationalism.

Bolton Hall & the “Free Acres” community:

“Selections from Free America and other works” Bolton Hall
(Introduction by Mark Sullivan)
(p.1) “Bolton Hall was a pioneer of what we may cal ‘alternative economics’ – what E.F. Schumacher’s ‘Small is Beautiful’ ppopularized as ‘Economics as if Prople Mattered’…”
(p.2-3)”Bolton Hall was born August 5, 1854 in Ireland. He came to America in 1867 with his parents when his father had been chosen pastor of the 5th Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York… he took up the study of law, and founded the American Longshoreman’s Union. […] He took part in other movements tending in anarchist or libertarian directions […] Moving among these radical circles [he] eventually met Emma Goldman. Despite their differences on how best to realize a free society, they became friends and mutual supporters through thick and thin…”

Founding of Free Acres
In 1910 Bolton Hall (1854-1938), a follower of Henry George, founded Free Acres. Hall’s background and intellectual predilections were strikingly similar to those of George. The son of a prominent New York City Presbyterian minister, Hall also combined religious and economic views to argue that humankind should serve as the “stewards” of the land. Hall’s philosophy is a combination of the law of love enunciated by Jesus, the economic views of Henry George, and the political rights of people defined by Thomas Jefferson.
He also followed American anarchists and antistatists in the tradition of Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and John Brown. He was influenced by his contemporary anarchists like Russians Leo Tolstoy and Pyotr Kropotkin, Englishman William Morris and American Emma Goldman. He believed that governments generally interfere unjustly with individual liberty and should be replaced by the voluntary association of cooperative groups. He held a vision of small cooperative communities in which simple life can maximize opportunity for individual self-expression.
He founded Free Acres to serve as a working experiment in local democracy, a living testament to his beliefs. He had an abiding faith in small communities, that liberty, justice and greater equality would prevail among the face to face relationships provided by the Free Acres monthly meeting. Free Acres would be able to avoid the onerous burden of bureaucracy and the futility of civil service reform that he associated with state socialism.

Jim Larkin, James Connolly, and the Revolutionary Syndicalism of Chicago culture & the IWW:

“The Rise & Fall of the Dil Pickle: Jazz-Age Chicago’s Wildest & Most Outrageously Creative Hobohemian Nightspot”
Founded in 1914 by former Wobbly Jack Jones, Irish revolutionist Jim Larkin, and a group of fantastic IWW-oriented Bughouse Square hobos and soapboxers, the Dil Pickle in just a few years was widely recognized as the wildest, most playful, most creative, and most radical nightspot…

Industrial workers of the World: James Connolly
First and foremost James Connolly was a Socialist. And when asked to elaborate on his Socialist theory, he would always advocate Revolutionary Syndicalism. Readers of James Connolly may react by saying that almost nowhere in Connolly’s work can any mention of Syndicalism be found. This is simply because Connolly preferred to use the term ‘Industrial Unionism’ to Syndicalism.

Jack White: Anarchist & Christian Communist

Jack White proposed the idea of workers’ militia, the Irish Citizens Army (ICA) in 1913 and played a key role in its early development and organisation. In April 1916 he was arrested in south Wales for attempting to organise a strike of miners in support of James Connolly.
In 1931, White was involved in a bitter street battle between unemployed workers and the RUC on the Newtownards Road in Belfast. 1936 at the age of 57 he travelled to Spain (as part of a Red Cross ambulance crew) to help fight fascism. Here he gravitated towards the anarchist CNT.
Impressed by the revolution that had unfolded in Spain, White was further attracted to the anarchist cause due to his own latent anti-Stalinism

“It is a fact, that the Barcelona churches were burnt, and many of them, where roof and walls are still standing, are used to house medical or commissariat stores instead of, as previously, being used by the fascists as fortresses. I suspect their present function is nearer the purpose of a religion based by its founder on the love of God and the Neighbour.”
First Spanish Impressions, Nov. 1936
“White travelled to Bohemia… lived in a ‘Tolstoyan’ commune in England and then travelled and worked in Canada… declaring himself to be a ‘Christian Communist’. He declared that ‘he was not prepared to go forward as the representative of any class or party, but only of a principle – the voluntary change to communal ownership of the land – and – the gradual withering of the poisoned branches of standing armies, prisons and the workhouse system.'”

Re: Back to the Land Economy

Márta 9, 2009

Considering “Land Economy,” we can also understand three dimensions of value – a “LAND Cube” – that Land represents:

1. “Land And Natural-resource Distribution” (utility in efficient allocation of raw material & natural capital);
2. “Location ANd Demographics” (Location values, Access to markets & services, Network effects & infrastructure, Demographic gravity & energy);
3. “Limiting Assets of Natural Development” (Land and land-like phenomena, fundamental means of production that are the limiting factors of all other economic processes).

We tend to compartmentalise all of these values as seperate, but all sets of these elements overlap the ownership and use of any parcel of physical land (although no. 3 also includes money, credit & cultural capital).

Mr. Berry isn’t just talking about efficient allocation of natural resources of course, but about the social capital and demographic networks of vibrant communities; the unofficial “added value” of social infrastructure that runs with the land like an easement on a title deed.

Irelands Cost of Living vs. the US, vs. the Euro v

Eanáir 19, 2009

Responding to a post by Rob Dreher (Mr. Crunchy Con) about “Europe’s Economic Agony“:

On January 14, Bloxhams – an Irish stockbroking firm – pointed out:
“The weakness of Euro membership for Ireland is highlighted into today’s Lex column.
With the UK doing what is needed to adjust to the new economic reality and devaluing its currency, Ireland is unable to devalue its currency to restore competitiveness. Therefore Lex points out that wages in Ireland will need to fall, something which is exceptionally difficult to achieve. While the Euro zone has provided us with the buffer of a central banking guarantee, the downside pain is in a loss of competitiveness against our nearest neighbour, the UK.”

I would like to point out, however, that at least in places like Ireland universal health care is an accepted part of the national infrastructure (like roads, police etc.) – not a right-wing ooga-booga talking point and socialist plot for world domination.

Consequently, the personal cost of living and financial security – in some respects – is far less than in the US.

Code Zed: Signs of the Coming Apocalypse

Nollaig 2, 2008

A new blog called Code Zed: Signs of the Coming Apocalypse has been launched by Saoirsí. If you like Zombie movies, social satire, weird science, and esoteric lore, you’ll love this. There’s one caveat: everything on the blog comes from real life – you really can’t make this stuff up.

Some may question the good taste, if not the morality – or even the sanity – of putting Japanese war crimes on a par with Krispy Kreme Bacon Cheeseburgers as a sign of the end times. But then, in an era when Henry Kissinger can get a Nobel Peace Prize, and Merton-Scholes a Sveriges Riksbank Prize for quantifying financial risk, the Universe must already have a pretty sick sense of humour.

It is the intention of the author to actually set up a voluntary citizen-intiative, based on the Civil Defence: Code ZED – Zombie Education and Defence association.

Space, Time, Energy, Matter, Information – 2

Samhain 17, 2008


Space, the final frontier... BP = d / (1 + ( √ (m²1 / m²2))

Space, the final frontier... BP = d / (1 + ( √ (m²1 / m²2))

“… a new geography is being created within which physical distance is less important than electronic connectedness. ” (Seeking source 081117)

Recapping, in paraphrase, STEMI Compression:

STEMI compression in design evolution, as applied to Resilient Communities –
– Space: less volume/area used; “localization… reduction of space needed to support human activity”;
– Time: faster; Just-In-Time production;
– Energy: less energy, higher efficiency; Just-In-Place production reduces transport;
– Mass: less waste; made to order versus mass production;
– Information: “higher efficiency, less management overhead… radical simplification”;

Hypothesis set A:

  1. Limiting Assets – Natural, National, Network Development (Locational ANd Demographic) or L.A.N.D.^2 values, exist;
  2. these values are the result of positive externalities which are due to:
    • intentional investments of site-specific material and social infrastructure;
    • natural opportunities and exogenous natural capital;
    • exposure to social opportunities and demographic energy, access to market, social capital;
  3. These contain both rival and non-rival public goods;
  4. Overuse of non-rival goods can result in them becoming rival;
  5. The rationalisation of provision, or rationing of rival goods, is necessary;
  6. State-allocation is hampered by the problem of cost calculation absent market signals;
  7. Allocation through state-led privatisation of rival goods leads to negative externalities – socialisation of cost, privatisation of profit;

Hypotheses set B:

  1. Technology and design – investment of knowledge – reduce effective spatial and time distance;
  2. Technology and design reduce effective material and energy use;
  3. Both the reductions of effective space-time and matter-energy can be thought of as as reductions of resistance to human action and desire;
  4. The control of such technology and design is equivalent to control of other aspects of LAND2 (hence Infrastructure and Network);
  5. Bottlenecks in such control – whether intentional or not – create an institutional toll-bridge which the rest of society must pay;

Some previous thinkers on demographic energy, locational value, and technology…

Fuller uses as an example of this the Telstar satellite which. while weighing only one-tenth of a ton, out-performs 75,000 tons of transatlantic cable…
… substitution not only in materials but in functions… may vastly alter our lives, effecting how we otherwise spend our energy and time. For example, communications as a substitution for transportation can effect such savings to a great extent…
A society that exercises this option of using communication in place of transportation in many of its activities … can conserve many resources. (Seeking source 081117)

Von Thunen::

r = Y(p − c) − YFm

where R=land rent; Y=yield per unit of land; c=production costs per unit of commodity; p=market price per unit of commodity; F=freight rate; m=distance to market.

Locational rent, a term used by von Thünen in his argument, is to be understood as the equivalent to land value. It corresponds to the maximum amount a farmer could pay for using the land, without making losses. It can be defined as the equation below:

L = Y(P − C) − YdR

* L: Locational rent (in Money / m²)
* Y: Yield (in Units / m²)
* P: Market price of the crop (in Money / units)
* C: Production cost of the crop (in Money / units)
* d: Distance from the market (in m)
* R: Transport cost / Resistance / Friction (in Money / units / m)

Stewart:: Demographic Gravity:

F = (N1 X N2) / ( √d )
Demographic Force = (population 1 X population 2) / (distance squared)

E = (N1 X N2) / d
Demographic Energy = (population 1 X population 2) / distance; this is also Zipf’s determinant:
Interchange of value; Y value of goods exchanged; inter-community movement of goods (by value):
Y = (N1 X N2) / d

PEN1 = N2 / d
Demographic Potential Energy of population 1 = population 2 / distance

PE = N / d
Demographic Potential Energy @ point = population / distance, in persons per mile

Gradient = N / m²
Demographic Gradient = persons / (mile squared)

Force of Diversity: economy of population living at source of raw material production (saves transport to production centre); n+, N-
Force of Unity: Economy of living together in one big city where all production done (saves transport to consumers); n- (to 1), N+ (to 100%)
Conflict of economies: n number of different communities and N sizes;

Reilly’s retail gravity equilibrium::

Population 1 / (distance to balance, squared) = Population 2 / (distance to balance, squared)

Larger cities will have larger Sphere of Influences than smaller ones, meaning people travel further to reach a larger city.

BP = d / (1 + ( √ (m²1 / m²2))

The balance or Break Point (BP) is equal to the Distance (d) between two places, divided by the following: Unity or Total (1) plus the Square Root of, the size of Place One (p1) divided by the size of Place Two (p2).

Notional gravity can be influenced by a number of things, but square footage is simple and effective measure of utility, ceteris paribus.


Interchange of value; Y value of goods exchanged; inter-community movement of goods (by value):

Y = (N1 X N2) / d

The movement of goods by value – and of persons – between any two communities, N1 & N2 that are separated by the easiest transportation distance, d, will be directly proportionate to the product, N1 X N2, and inversely proportionate to the distance, d. (The “Principle of least effort”)

(seeking source for following 081117)

U (x, h, T)

p (x ‘consumption’) + r (h ‘housing’) = (y0 ‘nonwage income’) + (w ‘wage rate’) . (1 – t ‘commute’ – T ‘leisure’)

Space, Time, Energy, Mass, Information – 1

Samhain 17, 2008

Technological design as a substitute for space, time, energy and material:

MORE Braiiiiiiiiiiins!

MORE Braiiiiiiiiiiins!

Buckminster Fuller came up with the concept of ephemeralization: “the principle of doing ever more with ever less weight, time and energy per each given level of functional performance”. (Fuller, Synergetics 2, 792.52)

This is a similar riff to STEMI Compression (thanks to John Robb – Global Guerrillas Wednesday, 12 November 2008) which I paraphrase here:

STEMI compression in design evolution, as applied to Resilient Communities –
– Space: less volume/area used; “localization… reduction of space needed to support human activity”;
– Time: faster; Just-In-Time production;
– Energy: less energy, higher efficiency; Just-In-Place production reduces transport;
– Mass: less waste; made to order versus mass production;
– Information: “higher efficiency, less management overhead… radical simplification”;

As an example – an important one to which I will return in the next post:

Fuller uses as an example of this the Telstar satellite which. while weighing only one-tenth of a ton, out-performs 75,000 tons of transatlantic cable…
… substitution not only in materials but in functions… may vastly alter our lives, effecting how we otherwise spend our energy and time. For example, communications as a substitution for transportation can effect such savings to a great extent…
A society that exercises this option of using communication in place of transportation in many of its activities … can conserve many resources.
(Searching for source, 081117)

Compare this with the cybernetic or computational trend – in the ability to manipulate and produce information – known as “Moore’s Law”:

Poverty on the world level has decreased from over 70% in 1960 to 30% at present. Averaged over the different decades, a yearly increase in GNP of about 2% seems normal for the developed countries. This increase is primarily due to an increase in productivity of about the same amount…
The increased productivity means that less resources and labor are needed to produce the same amount of goods. Buckminster Fuller (1969) called this on-going trend to do more with less “ephemeralization”. Perhaps the most spectacular illustration of the underlying
technological progress is Moore’s Law, the observation that the speed of microprocessors doubles every [24] months, while the price halves.
This improvement results mainly from miniaturization, so that more (processing power) is achieved with less (materials).
Ephemeralization explains the stable or declining prices (corrected for inflation) of physical resources and energy. The decline is particularly evident if the value of a resource is expressed as a percentage of the average income (Simon, 1995).
(Received 1 April 2000; Accepted 15 June 2000)

(The ability to generate knowledge – as opposed to simply transmitting information – is a subject also touched upon by Drucker in “Post Capitalist Society”; here it is described in an evolutionary or anthropological sense, again with reference to Fuller, and in a manner reminiscent of Popperian falsification:)

… evolution in this age is not primarily biological, but cultural: what is selected are no longer the genes, but the memes, i.e. the ideas, beliefs, habits, etc. that are transmitted from person to person (Heylighen, 1997a; Dawkins, 1976).
If a new design can achieve more than a previous design, while requiring the same its fitness will be higher in all environments.
Achieving more means being able to cope with a larger variety of problems or getting better results on any one problem. Requiring less means being less dependent on what the environment provides. Together, they imply more power, productivity and efficiency, that is, increased control over the problems that threaten QOL or survival.
…doing more with less (called “ephemeralization” by Buckminster Fuller) is conspicuous in the evolution of our society.
Economic development can similarly be seen as an increasing control of social needs (Heylighen, 1997b).
Unlike biological evolution, cultural evolution has developed a number of shortcuts for the tortuous process of blind variation and natural selection. It is knowledge in its diverse forms which allows us to anticipate to some extent what will happen. This allows us to avoid blind alleys, without first needing to explore them. Campbell (1974) has conceptualized knowledge as a “vicarious selector”. Knowledge selects the most adequate actions from the variety of potential actions, in the same way that natural selection selects by destroying inadequately behaving systems. The difference is that knowledge does not destroy actual systems, it only eliminates unpromising potentialities.
…progress in one domain will make society more competent to push for progress in another, by increasing its overall capacities.
The growth of knowledge obviously benefits all other domains:
the growth of wealth will benefit all other domains, including the domain of knowledge:
more healthy people will be more productive in general, whether it is in the material, the intellectual or the social domain. Similarly, people who feel more secure will invest more resources and energy in developing themselves or the economy.
The same positive feedback or mutual reinforcement can be observed within each of the major domains.
…progress feeds on progress, thus continuously promoting its own development.
(Received 1 April 2000; Accepted 15 June 2000)

One of the arguments regarding Peak Oil and resource depletion, is that this kind of ephemeralisation means less resources are needed to maintain equivalent or higher standards of living. One of the best champions of this case is Julian Simon in e.g “The Ultimate Resource”. The issue I have with Simon is: he is following a line of reason first successfully argued by Henry George against the Malthusians (that increased numbers of people are not a burden, but a greater source of ingenuity and specialisation), but he misses the problem of externalities and Political Economy. George argued that certain resources and collectively manufactured sources of economic value properly belonged in commonwealth, not private hands. Otherwise there would be the Chomskyist problem of “socialised costs and privatised profits”, which would destroy and act as a set of perverse incentives regarding overall productivity. Bearing this warning in mind, ceteris paribus



In exponential growth, we find that a key measurement such as computational power is multiplied by a constant factor for each unit of time (e.g., doubling every year) rather than just being added to incrementally.
…an exponential curve approximates a straight line when viewed for a brief duration. So even though the rate of progress in the very recent past… is far greater than it was ten years ago …, our memories are nonetheless dominated by our very recent experience.
…what would a thousand scientists, each a thousand times more intelligent than human scientists today, and each operating a thousand times faster than contemporary humans (because the information processing in their primarily nonbiological brains is faster) accomplish? One year would be like a millennium. What would they come up with?
Moore’s Law Was Not the First, but the Fifth Paradigm To Provide Exponential Growth of Computing
Each time one paradigm runs out of steam, another picks up the pace
…the most appropriate measure to track is computational speed per unit cost.
…the exponential growth of computing didn’t start with integrated circuits (around 1958), or even transistors (around 1947), but goes back to the electromechanical calculators used in the 1890 and 1900 U.S. Census. This chart spans at least five distinct paradigms of computing, of which Moore’s Law pertains to only the latest one.
Each stage of evolution provides more powerful tools for the next.
The “chaos” of the environment in which the evolutionary process takes place … provides the options for further diversity.
Specific paradigms, such as Moore’s Law, do ultimately reach levels at which exponential growth is no longer feasible. Thus Moore’s Law is an S curve. But the growth of computation is an ongoing exponential…
In accordance with the law of accelerating returns, paradigm shift, also called innovation, turns the S curve of any specific paradigm into a continuing exponential.
The Law of Accelerating Returns
Ray Kurzweil

Coming back to earth from these dizzying heights, we can see how – in line with the Technocracy movement that stemmed from the old Technical Alliance – design can reduce energy and material inputs if implemented societywide:

From the first clean sheet of paper to the first customer delivery of a new car, 1.7 million hours of research and development time is required: the equivalent of 8000 person-years or 2000 people working for four years at 40 hours a week. At $50 per hour, the cost is $850 million. But with the industry average production run of one million cars, that design cost is amortised to only $850 per car. So the consumer cost for the full benefit of 1.7 million hours of research amounts to only four percent of the average new car price of $20,000. (At $20,000 and weighing 1700 kilos, a car costs $11.70 dollars a kilo. That’s cheaper than steak and it comes with a three-year guarantee.)
For a 40 storey prestige office building costing $110 million, architectural fees are likely to amount to 2.1 percent and the full fee schedule (including quantity surveying) would be about 5.2 percent. At $50 per hour, that bill covers only 117,400 hours of thought or 57.2 person-years (less than .1 percent of the time spent designing your car).
Title: Tomorrow’s dynamic house. Authors: Trudgeon, Michael Source: Architecture Australia ; Nov/Dec98, Vol. 87 Issue 6, p80, 6p

Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute came up with the idea of “Negawatts” – units of electrical efficiency (power not used) that would be paid for, similar to regular “Megawatts”; here’s the parallel idea from Mumford:

“In the neotechnic phase, the main initiative comes, not from the ingenious inventor, but from the scientist who establishes the general law: the invention is the derivative product.”(217) Improvements in the internal combustion engine provide a new source of power which changes the social order. Rapid transportation is possible by the automobile and the airplane. Communication is further enhanced by the telegraph and the telephone. But, “whereas the growth and multiplication of machines was a definite characteristic of the paleotechnic period, [Mumford says] one may already say pretty confidently that the refinement, the diminution, and the partial elimination of the machine is characteristic of the emerging neotechnic economy.”(258)
Quoted from Technics & Civilization (seeking source 081117)
By Lewis Mumford

Economy and Philosopy: Nassim Taleb

Samhain 7, 2008

PBS (USA) Interview:

Nassim Nicholas Taleb (Author: The Black Swan), Benoit Mandelbroit (Mathematician).

Globalisation fools us into false security; if there is a failure, there can be a massive failure. Atheists and the Stock Market – Nassim Nicholas Taleb;

“Anybody invested in the Stock Market who is critical of religion is a hypocrite… stock markets analysts are worse than useless…”

BBC Newsnight – Nassim Nicholas Taleb:

“…we may be at the very beginning… we have to throw out everything we know…”

Charlie Rose Green Room – Nassim Taleb:

“You cannot seperate skills from luck… skills are necessary.”

Charlie Rose Interview 1. – Nassim Taleb:

“1. A surprise; 2. massively consequential… after the fact, we always analyse to find causes… the world is becoming more and more difficult to understand.”

“Most of what we know, came form tinkering… design has not led to desirable consequences… most [important] events come from large deviations… you have to learn form the extraordinary, not the ordinary.”

PBS – Newshour: Hedgefund explanation (Amaranth);

“… a crisis of confidence, because of an event that seemed impossible, until it happened.”

Times Online: Nassim Taleb – Life tips;


Samhain 2, 2008

Timber and land are both concrete, non-ephemeral, and always have some use, regardless of whether markets tank or not. As commented over on Seeking Alpha, true biologically-based “growth cycles,” mostly disconnected from from men-in-suits’ idiocracy – a level of insulation that may as well put it on a different planet. You also have about 1-5+ years to delay harvest in case of down prices.

Regarding wood as fuel: there are some “old school” technologies which make it quite comparable to oil, especially at $60+ a barrel prices.

Combined Heat and Power plants – also known as Cogeneration – deliver energy in the form of both electricity and heat.

In Denmark, for example, several cities operate District Heating systems, whereby heat is literally piped into buildings and apartment as a utility, form CHP plants.

Wood pellets act in some ways like a “liquid” in terms of storage tanks, and can be used in individual suburban and even some urban contexts with a high level of automation in burners. Pellets do require an intermediate manufacturing process involving heat, moisture and pressurisation. They also need to be below a certain percentage moisture, or are less effective.

Wood chips have some advantage in requiring less intermediate processing, are a bit less fussy concerning moisture. In Ireland, some institutions, such as hotels, use woodchip burners quite effectively. It’s also possible for companies to sell the heat, rather than the pellets, by renting container-like units that operate on-site, containing the burner and storage tanks, which are then maintained by the heat-utility company.

An advantage with both of these can be the use of thinnings from forestry, which might normally be a drain.

One key issue when bringing these fuels to market, is the level of intermediary processing; one estimate (I think) is that every time a tonne of the wood is handled, you subtract €5. And the more that a company can add value (e.g. through processing the wood for pellets) especially on-site, the more financial value can be reclaimed from the market, rather than just selling a raw commodity.

Wood-gas burners are another old, very efficient and proven technology with a high level of modern technological development. They’ve also been used – and can be still – in automotive contexts, believe it or not. FEMA even issued a do-it-yourself handbook for farmers in case of national emergency. The process involves heating the wood to release the gas, which is then burned, and is not very complicated.

Resilient Communities

Deireadh Fómhair 17, 2008

I’m going to use the next few posts to organise some materials concerning potential Resilient Communities, that may be submitted to and discussed by the Network of European Technocrats (more personable and user-friendly than the name might suggest!)

Some Right Libertarians think discussions of Self-Sufficiency, Transistion Towns, and possibly even Resilient Communities are equivalent to supporting Autarky – total economic isolation. This is a straw man argument: supporting individual liberty does not negate community life, nor planning responsibly for such (if we can have volunteer Fire Fighters and Civil Defence, why not plan for the scenarios of resource wars, peak oil, or economic depression – not so far fetched, are they?) This also demonstrates an unfortunate – but all too human – knee jerk reaction against political opponents’ ideas, even if at core they may not be so bad.