Saturday, February 13, 2010

"Sustainability" and more tortured metaphors.

So it was a couple of years ago I was walking down the dock and came upon a sinking boat. A crazed fellow was aboard with a 2 inch hole saw and was punching holes in the bottom.

"Dude! What the hell are you doing!" I shouted.

"What does it look like?" he snarks, "I'm washing the bilges. . ."

"You're nuts!" I cry "Can't you see your boat is sinking?!"

"Screw Al Gore and all that eco stuff. . ."

"What the hell does Al Gore have to do with any of this--just pull your head out and look, dammit!"

Begrudgingly and condescendingly he approaches the companionway. A moment of irritation is followed by a moment of recognition, which is followed by a moment of terror. . .

"God, MY BOAT IS SINKING!" He screams "Help! What do I do?" He begins to panic.

"First," I reply, "You've got to quit drilling 2 inch holes in the bottom of your boat."

"How will I wash my bilges then?"

"No problem!" I reply, "Technology to the rescue. Here's a 3/4 inch spade bit. I got a grant to study these and they're proven much superior to 2 inch hole saws. . ."

"That's STUPID!" a passerby exclaims, "Obviously his boat will still sink!"

"Don't be so negative," I retort. "Obviously it's a step in the right direction."

. . .

Well, sure.

Sustainability is a quantity, not an ideology. Ecosystems, cultures, economies, and lifestyles are either "sustainable" or they aren't. A small step in the wrong direction is only marginally better than a big step in the wrong direction. Let's not use the term "sustainable" loosely, and let's confine that term to strategies that are measurably "in the right direction" not mearly "less destructive."

Anyway, just had to say that. Come on, we can do better than that.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Deja Vu all over again: Vol 2 -- which is Navigation, Set and Drift, Vector Analysis, and all the rest. . .

Ok. then.

Navigation, of course, matter to sailors. It matters a great deal more to some than others.

There's no question that in navigating a sailing vessel, which is limited, even severely, in its propulsive capacity, at least quantitatively relative to the natural phenomena that might impact it: ie., tidal currents--navigational skills matter. It's commonplace to be sailing 3 knots on a 3 knot current in many places in the world. It takes a lot of skill to "get anywhere" in that scenario. In fact, that is, indeed, the art of "sailing" is making 3 knots in spite of 3 knots of adversity. Sailing in perfect conditions is brainless. That doesn't mean I don't enjoy it. It's just that the skill comes out when it's hard. The rest of the time it's a "gimmey."

Some then, really get off on navigation-- as "navigational" skills are the the hallmark of a great "sailor." Ok, sure. Sailors need to know how to navigate. I don't contest that, I agree. There are a lot of techniques out there using hand bearing compasses(yup, those are good) and sextants(especially used sideways!) and GPS(while it works, I'm all for it) and lots of intricate calculations on chart tables an crazy spherical trig and all that. Sure, great. It's great, while ashore, to spend a lot of time learning as much of all that as one can stomach. There's tons of tricks there and some of those tricks are completely capable of saving your butt. Shame on you for not knowing them! Indeed! It's very common, in fact to need to plot set and drift scenarios, and work vector analysis on a chart table. Sure. But there's a problem, and that problem is reality.

The reality is that very very if not almost always in the times you really need a "vector analysis" answer you also very likely: 1) Can't let go of the tiller 2) Don't have time to work the problem out 3) Might well barf on the chart table if you tried to actually work it out.

Indeed. Kinda curious, really, because in conditions where you don't need to know you could spend all of the time in the world working all that out. Of course it wouldn't matter, because, pointless, after all.

I've found that a curious paradox in navigational knowledge--you don't need it in conditions where it doesn't matter--but you can access it, BUT-- you can't have it in conditions you do. There's a 1 in a 1000 scenario where it helps, and that's cool, but basically, that's very rare and pretty small potatoes anyway and explains why completely incompetent people routinely sail around the world. Dumb luck, really, as most often, the world is kind, in spite of what we do to it to louse it up. Odd are, at the end of the day, going to be OK. The reality is, in the real world, the envelope of error vastly exceeds the resolution of the problem at hand. Thus, skill comes in and you fly by the seat of your pants. . .

Still, and this is damned important: The key in navigation, really, isn't knowing when you're going to be OK. It's knowing when you're not. That's why one studies navigation. But even a really bad navigator can compensate for lack of ability by being conservative and cautious and being doggedly and relentlessly obstinate in the goal of making port. . .

Well then, the sustainable lifestyle. . .obviously a bit of navigational talent is important here too.

In sailing we need to know our weather forecast, our boat's capacity to make good, the tides, perhaps obstacles and traffic, hours of day light, visibility, and a whole host of things.

In sustainability we need to know our economic forecast, our fiduciary means, the tides(meaning local influences), obstacles and traffic(um, interference in general, politely), hours of daylight(meaning how long one can hang in there), visibility(how far one can see), and a whole host of things.

So then, one can indeed plot on a chart table things like:

Let P + D + I + R + T = Ea

Where P = Production
Where D = Debt Service
Where I = Innovation
Where R = Resource Costs
Where T = Transportational Factors

Where Ea = Economic Activity

But, I'll suggest 1) You won't need to work that silly equation when you don't need too-- and 2) It won't mean much to you when you need to. In fact, I think the activity of really sitting down and doing so is very likely to make you barf on a chart table too.

I need to go deal with chickens: vol 3 will follow.

So what, is, indeed the "engine" of the unsustainable lifestyle?

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Deja Vu all over again. . .Vol 1

I haven't posted a proper diatribe in a while.

Well, let's see. It was about a decade ago(actually a little more than that) that the Oar Club was founded, such as it was. I was sick and tired of being the only person I knew who sailed(that means, of course, not motoring around all the time and sometimes using a sail, ahem. . .) a sailboat (which means, of course, the boat I "sailed" had sails but not engines) and the internet was just firing up to be accessible to most people. Many don't know this but the Oar Club publications first started as print, which I printed off and distributed at my own expense and we spoke by mail. That lasted about 6 months and I went online. Thank god, as I wasn't going to keep paying money to get nasty mail from people I pissed off. Of course this didn't slow the hate mail down a bit. This was 1997-99, of course. Gas wasn't even a buck a gallon, and we hadn't had our dot com bust, peak oil was something only fringe folks had ever heard of, nobody had blew up the twin towers and everyone was going to be movie stars, or something like that, I guess, even if you happened to be poorly complexioned. I started the Oar Club for people who wanted to know other people that wanted to sail. I mean for real. The project was a success. I officially quit maintaining it(rightly so, as I'm not sailing at the moment, and have no business offering my sage advice there) and, well, it's a concept now entrenched enough that it's running along on its own wind supported by those that see its value. That's pretty cool.

My Oar Club message was pretty simple and so were the premises--framed rhetorically might be stated thus: 1) Why go sailing unless you want/intend to go sailing? 2) If you're a normal person and you want to go sailing, economic constants apply. The first question, of course, highly aesthetic and ideological--why would one want to indulge oneself in the archetypal exercise of sailing and then cheat the guts out of the experience by motoring around when "you can't be bothered" with the sailing part--the second question a completely practical one: um, how the hell are you going to pay for this exercise? The answer to both questions, of course, was eliminate the engine. You solved your issue about faking things and saved yourself enough money to make the whole project doable in one fell swoop. Makes all the sense in the world. Of course it pissed people off to no end whose real goals were different: they wanted to look a certain way and had the means to purchase the image. The engine, indeed, was the means to achieving this image. Whoops, that was made to look lame. This kind of ideo/practicality when spoken has a tendency to make a lot of things look like flaming(as conspicuously on fire) bullshit and not everyone enjoys being "outed." Well, bummer. Those who can afford to purchase images for themselves in their idle time can hire folks to handle the PR after the fact of being exposed as full of crap. Not so surprisingly, the most support I'd get for the Oar Club stuff didn't come from wanna-be sailors, it came from powerboaters. They'd say "I think you're crazy, but what you're doing is pretty cool." They didn't have a dog in the "pissing match" and were capable of saying such things. The most heat I ever got was from a guy, who I assume is sane, and was a big time med researcher in Portland, Oregon, whose sailing career involved motoring the 5 mile stretch of river between the I-5 and I-205 bridges on the Columbia River, who sent me a 25000 word manifesto about, well most everything, including the rights of quadriplegics to sail, etc., all sorts of stuff. It never stopped . I still have it somewhere. Touche, bro. As John Stewart Mill would say--it's easy to win an argument, it hard to get your opponent to care. Well, I guess that guy cared. I guess I laugh.

For the record: Quadriplegics motorsailing= plenty cool enough.

People have asked lately--do you miss sailing? Um, kinda, although I got my fill, I'll tell ya. It got to the point where in my mind the question smacks of "Jay, so do you miss driving forklift?" or some such. Hell no, not in the particulars. Most importantly, rather, I feel personally I'm still doing the same thing. All in all, none of this is really so much about sailing but rather integrity and trying to create meaning in a world where there's very little to grab on to that will support that. Sailing, for real, is one thing you can grab onto.

So is my current project--sustainability.

And very similar rhetorical questions apply--why on earth would one want to live sustainably? Kinda pointless really. Screw it. Screw everyone else. I'll get mine and everyone else can go without. Girls like powerboats better. Regardless of whether your world view is created by an intelligent, well researched analysis of our financial system, energy delivery systems, commodities, or our ecology--or you're one of those kind of people who scratch themselves thinking about Sarah Palin in the middle of the night mouthing "drill, baby, drill" oh so softly--why bother really? Why bother caring? It's a lot easier not to. I promise that. Why bother? It's a great question, and a hard one to answer. And the fact is the answer is very much the exact same answer applies to sailing. I want to to care. I need to care. Or, simply, and heroically, because you've chosen to affirm that it's the right thing to do. Because it is, of course. Obviously. And you don't want to be a Schmuck. It's about integrity. To yourself, or all of the rest of us. It's one of those things like recognizing sailing is sailing and motoring is motoring.

Guess what!
I've a couple of rhetorical questions to ask. 1) Why pretend to live "sustainably" if you're not going to live sustainably. 2)If you're going to live sustainably, economic constraints will apply. Shocker, right? Well of course. Again, I find myself in a situation where I'm running afoul of those who in the same manner as yachtsmen want to purchase an image for themselves as some kind of "master of the sea"-- those who want to purchase themselves some kind of image as being "the masters of a sustainable" future when at the end of the day there's damn near nothing that they do that can be remotely equated with sustainability. This isn't a matter of ideology. Not at all. Just look at what they do, quantify it, and form a judgment. Bullshit. And as in sailing, I find the majority of support that I find comes from people who are ardent "not caring" sorts, the kind that don't even bother to pretend--who as in the manner of powerboaters would say "I think you're crazy, but what you're doing is pretty cool."

Believe me, sustainability is going to be all the rage. Why? We've gone to sea as pretend sailors and our engine has conked out. Mixed metaphors, eh? Really, it applies. We are wholly adrift in foul waters right now as a society(all sailors will understand the terror of that phrase) and our future is far from certain, our fate mostly directed by dumb luck. Let me tell you, the worst time to learn to sail(although it's how I got started) is when you have to because the engine conked out. That's dangerous. The worst time to learn to live sustainably(with much much higher stakes) is when your engine conks out too. Boy Howdy, and a hell of a lot more dangerous.

. . .

. . .

. . .

Some savvy sorts will recognize that my metaphorical comparison is incomplete. In sailing, the issue, was, of course the "engine."

So what, rhetorically, is the "engine" of the unsustainable lifestyle? Opinions? Very important question, really.

I need to care for chickens. Vol 2. will follow.


It's been a source of never ending humor to me how few people "get" the "Oar Club" thing. If you're sailing(for real, meaning, that's all you've got) and you end up in the "Oar Club" well, that's not a good thing. Actually that really sucks to have to row your butt off a reef because you screwed up and now risk losing your boat. But, the negative reinforcement goes a long long way towards skill acquisition. Indeed it does. You won't do it twice.

On the Sustainability line maybe I should start "Starve Club." LOL. That's a lot less poetic, but we've already got a couple billion members. . .

Go Saints.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Biochar again:

Be sure those of you interested in biochar(and if you're not, shame on you!) take a look at Ben and Debs result on their first biochar experiment. The data speaks for itself.

Again, anyone interested in biochar is welcome to get a hold of me and I'm more than willing to share what I've found to be the most effective and practical manner to produce it for a small farmstead. I'm more than willing to put together a demonstration if any would desire it.

Here's the link. Check it out.

Suraj's Journal

Just added a link to the worthy reads section. I'd recommend this blog highly, as there's a lot of practical insightful information there. I hope you take the time to check in out.