Walmart: organic vs. local

Sustainablog writes that Walmart’s getting into organic food. One excellent thing about this is that Walmart scale can help take soil conservation mainstream. Factory farms producing better soil are much better than factory farms mining soil. Another excellent thing is scaling up agricultural practices that don’t depend on petroleum-derived fertilizers.
Walmart’s entry into the market is a big threat to smaller organic farmers, but it also creates an opportunity. Buy local, brand local. The eco-conscious buyers who were buying organic for the environmental benefits will also be thinking about the unsustainability of long-distance food transport. Small players who can brand local will be able to get higher prices from customers buying sustainability.

Essembly and my ideal organizing app

Essembly is a fun toy for people who like to debate about politics and meet likeminded folks, but it doesn’t yet do much useful to help you get informed or take action.
The starting point is kinda fun. The system poses some political question. You answer on a scale of one to four, and then the system lets you explain your answer. Some of the questions are put together by the editors of the site, and others by participants.
The explanations are what really make it work as a game. When I filled out their initial quiz, one of the questions was:
Preserving the environment is usually more important than protecting jobs and business.
Grrr!!! What a horrible question! This false dichotomy is toxic to real progress. How about, protecting the environment through clean energy can be a major creator of jobs and businesses. Moreover, reduction in fossil fuel carbon may be the only way to make sure that we have a viable economy that supports the current population.
Once I realized that I could comment, and people could debate each other in their answers, I was less mad and more entertained.
Debate is an important part of political learning, as Scott Henson teaches citing Christopher Lasch, who argues that journalism’s goal of objectively informing people is a fallacy, since people really understand things through argument. The advocacy framing provided by blogs like Glenn Greenwald’s actually makes news easier to understand, even if you don’t agree with the blogger all the time (Greenwald is perilously right, but that’s a digression).
The site gives people strong identity, with pictures and background information, which will hopefully help the site stay civil.
The problem is the site doesn’t provide good ways to get beyond the opinions that readers bring to the table. I’m not going to go to Essembly as often as I’ll go to a blog site that brings and contextualizes news in the context of the readers’ opinions, with references to go deepen when I care to.
The site makes it easy to make groups and “friend” people in the social networking site manner. But it doesn’t yet provide tools for people who want to do anything more.
What I really want from an activist site is a set of tools that helps not just to affiliate, but to organize. A tool to arrange a group visit to a legislator. A tool to build a mailing list,with distributed administration. A tool to build shared talking points, and to write letters to editors and decision-makers. A tool to donate for a shared purpose.
Essembly is a fun start, but in game terms, it leaves people at level 1.

John Doerr on the market opportunity for global warming

I spent some weekend time researching green energy opportunities to invest the money from the sale of my house.
Glad to see uber-VC John Doerr talking about the threats and opportunities

A warming planet, through climate change, is another threat. Doerr, who was joined onstage by his partner John Denniston, displayed slides, including pictures of the entire Bay Area sitting under water — to show what would happen if global warming melts away Greenland’s ice sheet. The ice sheet’s melting is well under way, and its demise would lead to a 20-foot rise in ocean levels, he said.

I hope we take action before New York and London go where New Orleans went.

The format for community blogging

Jay Rosen ponders the right format to integrate blogs into newspapers. What’s the right combination of “top-down” and “bottom-up” content?
Daily Kos and the scoop sites have a good model. Anyone can post a piece. The front page consists of a combination of stories written by core writers, and stories promoted from the ranks of highly-recommended reader contributions. Recommended stories are given a prominent sidebar position.
I would add aggregation to that model. Like the Austin Bloggers model, individual bloggers would be able to submit posts to the aggregator. There could be relevancy moderation, as there is with Austin Bloggers. Then, add on top of that the recommendation and promotion features from the DailyKos model. So independent community bloggers could have their content featured also.
So, in a model with money flowing through it, who would get paid? Maybe anyone who gets a front page story, whether they’re on the staff, or whether the story was promoted by editors or by reader recommendation.

The model for news and blogs

There was an unconference yesterday in Philadelphia where the traditional journalists and bloggers were on the same side, trying to figure out how to get journalism paid for. The journalists in the room were staring up at an elephant — the papers in Philly are up for sale, and they don’t know if they’ll be “allowed” to innovate. Liveblogged by Jeff Jarvis.
That smells like a business opportunity. Mike Phillips of Scripps describes it on commenting on Jay Rosen’s site

There are days when I

Immigration: scapegoat politics is failing

Immigrants are the latest in a long series of minority scapegoats to bear the brunt of Republican party “divide and rule” electioneering. Thankfully, it’s failing. A vast crowd in LA, and big crowds in Denver, Phoenix and Milwaukee gathered to protest a new bill that proposes making illegal immigration a felony and building a wall on the Mexican border.
In the last election, Republicans made headway in hispanic communities; that seems less likely this time around. Hopefully the bad bill won’t go anywhere, and Republicans will be harmed by outraging Hispanic Americans more than they are helped by energizing the white bigot vote.
The scapegoat gambit is an old tactic for the Republican party. Willie Horton and welfare queens worked 20 years ago, but apparently demonization of black folk doesn’t go over anymore. In the last cycle, the Republicans picked on gays, but tolerance is on the rise, so immigrants came up in the next draw of the scapegoat card.
Are changes to immigration policy needed? Its troubling to see workers with low wages and no protection. But making immigrants felons and building a wall isn’t the solution. Running against the “brown hordes” is a transparent appeal to the bigot vote, and I’m glad to see it not working.

Unpacking the bookshelf: after mass marketing

When the internet was becoming commercial, I researched and wrote a multi-client study for the paper industry on the future of paper. In order to understand the consumer economy that drove the advertising support for newspapers and magazines, I researched the history of mass advertising, mass marketing and consumer culture to understand the old system that seemed on the verge of splintering.
Since then, the market for physical goods hasn’t changed as much as the dotcom era promised. But the market for text, music, video and software is changing rapidly. The web20ish cascade of user-generated content is as dramatic and more fun than one might have imagined, despite the bad laws that incumbent industries are trying to use to hold back time.
The scary collapse of the newspaper ad market is happening as predicted, along with a very scary decline of democracy.
I didn’t think that electronic displays would be cheap enough for books until around now. That market still hasn’t gone anywhere. The relationship between pixels and paper has gotten very strange, with books being used by bloggers, mostly as excuses for book tours.

Unpacking the bookshelf on environment and industrial ecology

And worrying that global warming might be too far along to reverse. Long before Jared Diamond’s Collapse, I read A Green History of the World: Environment and the Collapse of Civilizations. It talks about how human-catalyzed soil degradation led to the progressive decline of the Sumerian, Assyrian and Babylonian civilizations.