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Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Environmentalism's Bad Rap

From the Long Now List:

Kareiva began by recalling the environmental
"golden decade" of 1965-75, set in motion by 
the scientist Rachel Carson. In quick succession 
Congress created the Clean Air Act, the Clean 
Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act---
which passed the Senate unanimously.

Green influence has been dwindling ever 

since. A series of polls in the US asked how 
many agreed with the statement, "Most 
environmentalists are extremists, not 
reasonable people." In 1996, 32% agreed. 
In 2004, 43% agreed. Now it's over 50% who 
think environmentalists are unreasonable.

Kareiva noted that as the world is urbanizing, 

ever fewer people grow up in contact with nature
---current college freshman have less than a 
tenth of the childhood experience of nature as 
previous generations. And there's a demographic 
shift toward multiethnicity, with whites already a 
minority in California and soon to be a minority in 
the whole country. Asked to describe a typical 
environmentalist, current grade school students 
say it's a girl, white, with money, preachy about 
recycling, nice but uptight, not sought as a friend.

In general, environmentalist have earned the 

reputation of being "misanthropic, anti-technology, 
anti-growth, dogmatic, purist, zealous, exclusive 

Kareiva gave several examples of how that reputation 

was earned. In Green rhetoric, everything in nature 
is described as "fragile!"---rivers, forests, the whole 
planet. It's manifestly untrue. America's eastern 
forest lost two of its most dominant species---the 
american chestnut and the passenger pigeon---and 
never faltered. Bikini Atoll was vaporized in an 
H-bomb test that boiled the ocean. When National 
Geographic sent a research team there recently, they 
found 25% more coral than was ever there before. The 
Deepwater Horizon oil disaster last year caused 
dramatically less harm to salt marshes and fisheries 
than expected, apparently because ocean bacteria ate 
most of the 5 million barrels of oil.

The problem with the fragility illusion is that it 

encourages a misplaced purism, leaving no room 
for compromise or negotiation, and it leads to "fortress 
conservation"---the idea that the only way to protect 
"fragile" ecosystems is to exclude all people. In Uganda, 
when a national park was established to protect 
biodiversity, 5,000 families were forced out of the 
area. After a change in government, those families 
returned in anger. To make sure they were never 
forced out again, they slaughtered all the local wildlife. 
In the 1980s, Kareiva was a witness in Seattle for 
protecting old growth forest (and spotted owls). At 
the courtroom loggers carried signs reading: "You 
care about owls more than my children." That jarred him.

When genetically engineered crops (GMOs) came 

along, environmentalists responded with "knee-jerk 
anti-technology religiosity," Kareiva said. How to 
feed the world was not a consideration. Lessening 
the overwhelming impact of agriculture on natural 
systems was not a consideration. Instead, the 
usual apocalyptic fears were deployed in the usual 
TOMORROW! When Kareiva was working on protecting 
salmon, he saw the same kind of language employed 
in a 1999 New York Times full-page ad about dams 
in the Snake River: TIMELINE TO EXTINCTION! He 
knew it wasn't true. Salmon are a weedy species, and 
the re-engineered dams were letting the fish through.

The Nature Conservancy---where Kareiva is chief 

scientist working with the organization's 600 scientists, 
4,000 staff, and one million members in 37 countries---
promotes a realistic approach to conservation. Instead 
of demonizing corporations, they collaborate actively 
with them. They've decided to do the same with farmers, 
starting an agriculture initiative within the Conservancy. 
For the growing cities they emphasize the economic 
value of conservation in terms of valuable clean water 
and air. They started a program taking inner-city kids 
out to their field conservation projects not to play but 
to work on research and restoration. An astonishing 
30% of those kids go on to major in science.

Kareiva sees conservation in this century as a profoundly 

social, cooperative undertaking that has to include 
everyone. New social networking tools can be in the 
thick of it. For instance, people could use their smartphones
to photograph (and geotag, timestamp, and broadcast) the 
northernmost occurrence of bird species, and the aggregate 
data could be graphed in real time, showing the increasing 
effects of global warming on the natural world. When everyone 
makes science like that, everyone owns it. They've invested.

--Stewart Brand

Monday, June 27, 2011

Demystifying the Artists Statement

So that's what that means...

Zero Charisma—a movie about D&D players

Trailer for Zero Charisma - a movie about D&D players

The Story:

Scott Weidemeier spends his time in exactly three ways: working a menial job at a local donut shop, caring for his abusive grandmother, and running The Greatest Dungeons & Dragons Game of All Time. Though overbearing and short-tempered, Scott is a hero to his fellow players--that is, until neo-nerd hipster Miles Butler joins the game, fueling Scott's rampant insecurity and alienating him from his own players. Can Scott overcome his contempt for the mainstreaming of nerdery, or will this clash of the subcultures come to a head?
Why We're Doing It:
The video you can see above is a teaser trailer specifically made to launch our IndieGoGo campaign, that we think shows the rough story and feel of our vision. Though the topics of gaming and nerd culture are close to our hearts, our real passion for this story lies in the main character. Over the last year, we have taken great care to write someone who is neither your typical leading man, nor the archetypal nerd who exists only for laughs. And that's the challenge we are excited to take up: evoking a range of emotions from the audience--from revulsion to delight to fear to sympathy--for the most unlikely of characters.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

This obsession with turning the classroom into funhouse isn’t new.

This obsession with turning the classroom into funhouse isn’t new. Eighty years ago, Austrian educator Rudolf Steiner wrote, “I’ve often heard that there must be an education which makes learning a game for children; school must become all joy. The children should laugh all the time and learning will be play. This is the best educational principle to ensure that nothing at all is learned” (Rudolf Steiner [1922], The Younger Generation,” in thirteen lectures).
Clifford Stoll (1999). High-Tech Heretic: 
Why Computers Don’t Belong in the 
Classroom and other Reflections by a 
Computer Contrarian, p. 13.

One of my colleagues circulated this story on why we should use twitter in the classroom. In reading it I was reminded of a lecture that Neil Postman gave at SUNY–Fredonia about a dozen years ago. He was plugging his latest book in his lecture, Building a Bridge to the 18th Century, and he talked a lot about how many of the new technologies that we have don't really solve problems so much as make us think a problem existed where one never was. At one point, while telling an anecdote about buying a car he said 
I went to buy a new car. A Toyota Camry. The salesman told me it had power windows. I told him I didn't need power windows but he said they were standard. I asked, 'what problem does power widows solve?' and he said so you don't have to do this [indicating rolling up the window]. I told him I've never had a problem doing this...
This is pretty much the place we are at now. The article mentioned above is about the third article of its kind I have read in the last month and each time they include a list of suggestions WHY twitter or Facebook, or whatever will improve the classroom—remember Steiner?

Twitter lets me: Send reminders

Something I have been able to do with e-mail for more than 20 years.

Share links See above.

Teachers can collaborate: We already do that in the hall, at conferences, via e-mail and the telephone, over lunch. What problem does Twitter solve? 

Encourage creativity: Something I can do with a box of Popsicle sticks.

Replace e-mail: Why? It works fine.

Other dramatic claims included: "change the way that students submit and receive their assignments, using tools such as Flickr, YouTube and a blogging platform, like WordPress or Tumblr." I teach publications and writing, why are these relevant activities? Indeed, none of them really need to be part of an education in public relations. What students need to learn is not HOW to post a blog entry. Bertram Thumb Cat ( can do that, but how to use the technologies for strategic communication—something that does not actually require a student to actually post a tweet. 

I study new technology. I have more than a dozen articles on it. I love it. But, like Postman suggested, if it isn't broke why fix it? I love power windows. They solve a problem (my windows were harder to roll down than his). I see twitter as a valuable communication tool. It's just not an educational tool. And it does not have to be. The telephone is an amazing communication tool. I don't need it to teach my class. 

What we see are people who've found a toy that they love and want to share it with everyone in spite of whether it's a fun (or useful) toy for everyone else. They have a hammer so they want to nail stuff. Just once I'd like to see REAL (thoughtful not propagandistic) suggestions for how to use a new technology. 

What might twitter be good for? Let's see, (1) sending notices to the parents who spend 20-40K per year for their kids education that they have skipped class yet again. (2) Requiring students to send links to valuable articles to their peers and to read them—they'll be on the test. (3) requiring students to link to valuable blogs and "follow" genuinely valuable educational sites. (4) about you come up with some now. 

If you were paying attention, you're saying "can't I do all that already with e-mail?" Yea, you can. I guess Twitter is not really a very useful educational tool is it? And I wonder why? You can say a lot in 140 characters or less. #not

Monday, June 20, 2011

9,000 year old trees.

Before virtually every organized culture this tree stood. What is amazing about these spruce trees is how small they are. The ten year old trees in my backyard are bigger. But they wont live a thousand years.

World's Oldest Living Tree -- 9550 Years Old -- Discovered In Sweden

ScienceDaily (Apr. 16, 2008) — The world's oldest recorded tree is a 9,550 year old spruce in the Dalarna province of Sweden.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Thinking 10,000 years down the road

I didn't really believe that the 10,000 year clock would ever be built but it really looks like it will happen. Check out the chime mechanism. I'm on the list for tickets when the clock is finished. Let me know if you want to see it.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

First it was the blog, and now Facebook

Not to say I told you so...but Roger's "Diffusion of Innovations" theory from decades ago told us this day would come. At Half of the US population already having an account, I'd say we are long past due.