Sunday, February 28, 2010

Earrings From Lynn

I got Lynn's earrings in the mail, and I wore them. Whooooo!

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Softsheep Etsy Store!

Lilian set up an Etsy shop for me. It doesn't have too much stuff on it right now.

We priced things steeply because we're almost afraid of getting orders. I want to put up some of my other drawings so that I can get rid of them and have more space for more.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Time Banking Community

I heard a really interesting story about time banking today. It is like bartering, but instead of directly exchanging goods, you provide services and you log how much time you spend, and then you can redeem them for other people's services.

The system in Boston is Time Trade Circle

Monday, February 22, 2010

NCSE Debriefing at MIT

I'm going to do a little talk at MIT about the NCSE Conference. It'll be in 4-146, Monday, March 1, 7pm.

Fancy Fish Recipe

At Oishii, there is this black cod dish that is really amazing. I found a recipe online, though, and now I'm trying to make it. The miso I used is not that white, though. It is more orange.

Lynn Jewelry Inc

Lynn has started making earrings and selling them on etsy, and I bought a pair today! They are kind of like these.

Getting Back Into the Groove

I've started dancing again with the old Polynesian dance group from college. Now they rent space from Green St Studios and share the costs depending on how many people show up. I'm performing this Friday for the MIT Vegetarian Luau. It's good to get exercise again and also reconnect with people.


Aquaponics sounds really awesome, especially if the fish can just be fed table scraps/human food rather than having to buy little fish.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Open Classroom at Northeastern

Northeastern makes one of their graduate level policy classes open to the public. This semester, the class is on Globalization: International Economy, Security, and Culture

Generate Offsets

My friend notified me of this page, which uses google search, but offsets the carbon emissions of your internet searches.

Copenhagen Analysis by MIT panel

MIT recently had an event assessing the outcome of the Cop15 Climate Conference. It was a pretty positive spin on things. It sounded like a very interesting talk, and I will post the video when it becomes available. Panelists include Ernest Moniz, MIT Energy Initiative Director, Robert Stavins, professor of business and government at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, Michael Greenstone, MIT Environmental Economist who was chief economist on the President's Council of Economic Advisors for the past year, Steven Ansolabehere, professor of political science at MIT and Harvard, Edward Steinfeld, director of the MIT-China program and associate professor of political science, and Henry Jacoby, co-director of MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change and professor of management at MIT Sloan.

We had Michael Greenstone speak at the Big Picture Panel event, and Ed Steinfeld was my China policy professor.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Partisanship in US Politics

Democrats need to get a handle on the rhetoric. I really agree with Frank Rich's article in the NYT, although I think it has a stupid name.

[Palin's] only concrete program for dealing with America’s pressing problems came in the question-and-answer session. “It would be wise of us to start seeking some divine intervention again in this country,” she said, “so that we can be safe and secure and prosperous again.” That pretty much sums up her party’s economic program, at least: divine intervention will achieve what government intervention cannot. That the G.O.P. may actually be winning this argument is less an indictment of Palin than of Washington Democrats too busy reading the writing on her hand to see or respond to the ominous political writing on the wall.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy Chinese New Year's

It is now the year of the metal tiger. I celebrated by going to my mom's house for dinner with a bunch of friends. It was really fun and delicious. This year, Chinese New Year's happened to be on the same day as Valentine's day. We watched the CCTV New Year's Gala.

btw, I think it's really strange that this is a toy tiger. It looks more like a mouse. Actually, it looks kinda like Pokemon.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Iranian Progressives Still Want Nukes

Good article by Robert Wright.

I think it's a very awkward thing right now that many Western countries want to sanction Iran to prevent them from getting nuclear weapons. They say they want to target the Revolutionary Guard not the people, but actually I think nuclear technology, which includes weapons, are very important to the people. So if they really elected someone who was popular and more democratic, things would not get any easier, and they would still have to sanction Iran.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Climate Scoreboard

Art Galleries : First Fridays Boston

Went to some art gallery openings this weekend in the South End, 450 Harrison Ave.

The two artists at the Boston Sculptors Gallery were really good, Kim Bernard

and Eric Sealine

It's not that easy to see, but it's actually pops out of the wall, giving it a more 3D look.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Prosperity Without Growth Review

This book lays out the argument for a new macroeconomics model that does not depend on exponential GDP growth.

First, it explains the reasoning behind economic growth and why we depend on it right now. The motivation behind growth is that it has been a very effective way to raise the standard of living for everyone. However, in OECD countries, inequality has increased in the past 20 years, and the middle class has not seen an "income increase in real terms." (I would like to examine this claim further.) The report also makes the argument that continued increased incomes in developed nations has not increased living standards such as life expectancy, happiness, and education levels. In some ways, the argument is that this is about as good as it gets so further increased income only brings marginal gain.

Economic growth is needed because increased efficiency of labor in capital markets due to technological improvements implies that more things need to be made in order to maintain full employment. Labor is expensive and a rising cost because the point of growth is for incomes to grow. Thus, in order for more people to be making more money, more things have to be made and consumed.

In The New Paradigm for Financial Markets, George Soros traces the emergence of what he calls a 'super-bubble' in global financial markets to a series of economic policies to increase liquidity as a way of stimulating demand. Loosening restraints on the US Federal Reserve, de-regulating financial markets and promoting the securitization of debts through complex financial derivatives were also deliberate interventions...What emerges from all this is that the market was not undone by isolated practices carried out by rogue individuals. Or even through the turning of a blind eye by less than vigilant regulators. The very policies put in place to stimulate growth in the economy led eventually to its downfall. The market was undone by growth itself.

This reliance on economic and material growth is also not ecologically sustainable. Most economists argue that while economic growth is necessary, material growth can be decoupled from economic growth. This implies that technological improvements need to reduce carbon intensity (emissions/dollar) faster than GDP grows.

The Ehrlich equation is where I = impact, P is population, A is affluence or income level, and T is the technological intensity.

I = PxAxT

so total carbon emissions for 1 year is
C = P x $/person x gCO2/$

Therefore, total growth in emissions per year is population growth + income growth - technological improvements.

Carbon intensities have declined on average by 0.7%/year since 1990...Population has increased 1.3%/year and average per capita income has increased by 1.4%/year (in real terms) over the same period...Carbon dioxide emissions have grown on average by 1.3+1.4-.7 = 2%/year leading over 17 years to an almost 40% increase in emissions.
To achieve an average year-on-year reduction in emissions of 4.9% with 0.7% population growth and 1.4% income growth, T has to improve by approximately 4.9+0.7+1.4=7% each year. By 2050 the average carbon content of economic output would need to be less than 40gCO2/$, a 21 fold improvement on the current global average.
...Imagine a scenario in which incomes everywhere are commensurate with a 2% increase/year in the current EU average income...By 2050 the carbon content of each dollar has to be no more than 6gCO2/$. That's almost 130 times lower than the average carbon intensity today. Beyond 2050, of course, if growth is to continue, so must efficiency improvements. With growth at 2%/year from 2050 to the end of the century, the economy in 2100 is 40 times the size of today's economy. And to all intents and purposes, nothing less than a complete decarbonization of every single dollar will do to achieve carbon targets. Under some more stringent stabilization scenarios, by 2100 we will need to be taking carbon out of the atmosphere.

These goals for absolute decoupling are only about carbon intensity and the use of other resources such as water have their own constraints.

Finally, the other idea from this book that I really liked was the discussion on 'consumer culture.' The acquisition of material things, especially novel material things have become a part of communicating our social status and identity. "...we use a 'language of goods' to communicate with each other, not just about status, but also about identity, social affiliation, and even - through giving and receiving gifts for example - about our feelings for each other, our hopes for our family, and our dreams of the good life." This idea implies that while we have enough for our physical needs, people will never be able to have enough stuff, partly because as you acquire more income, you need to use more and more of it to participate in society.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Bullying and Suicide

Recently, a high school girl Phoebe Prince killed herself because of relentless bullying by her high school peers. At first when I hear about it, I thought, well, that's sad, but you can't prevent everyone from killing themselves. I didn't really think the mom who posed as a boy on MySpace was responsible for Megan Meier's death. What if the bullies never meant that much harm? When I read more about it, though, it seemed like her bullies were especially vicious and were not at all remorseful when she died. Then it really seems like they need to be punished, but it's unclear how.

The thing is that while the stereotypical male bullying of stealing lunch money is more easily identifiable, verbal bullying especially by girls is not well-understood and not as easy to spot. Besides, kids are bound to have arguments, and adults don't always need to intervene. Some people say that kids need to learn how to stand up for themselves, and that's certainly true. On the other hand, kids need to know how to behave civilly. Plus, there are limits to what someone can do to stand up for themselves.

Being surrounded by hostile people all day is not easy. It's not as benign as someone calling you a name sometimes. When you're a kid, you don't know very many people, and you are just beginning to build your identity and relation to society. When you are an adult, you already have an identity and you have met many different groups of people so of course when people criticize you, it's not as disturbing. People say that if kids can't even handle being bullied, they'll never make it in the 'real world.' Well, in the 'real world' people at work have to behave professionally, and people you interact with outside of work are either your friends (maybe from college) or people you are buying things from.

At the same time, I know that I have been on the giving as well as the receiving end of bullying. East Campus also had a certain way of keeping people in line. In extreme cases it could be considered bullying, but every social group has a mechanism for moderating behavior. In fact, I have a theory that bullying tactics are really meant to be used for curbing people's social behavior and help with their social development. When people don't use it to help bring people in to the fold, though, they are effectively telling their victims that they are worthless without providing any directions for how to reform. In that context, it's no surprise people feel the urge to commit suicide because they feel there is nothing they can do to escape persecution as a social failure.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Demand Management

MIT Energy Club talk on electricity demand management.

They posted some links to some good articles

The Man is Coming Down on the Banks

or at least, I hope he is. Paul Volker's NYT opinion article about limiting the sizes of banks. I don't really understand all of the recommendations since I have a limited knowledge of the financial system.

In particular I don't really understand this passage.

The specific points at issue are ownership or sponsorship of hedge funds and private equity funds, and proprietary trading — that is, placing bank capital at risk in the search of speculative profit rather than in response to customer needs. Those activities are actively engaged in by only a handful of American mega-commercial banks, perhaps four or five. Only 25 or 30 may be significant internationally.

The specific points at issue are ownership or sponsorship of hedge funds and private equity funds, and proprietary trading — that is, placing bank capital at risk in the search of speculative profit rather than in response to customer needs. Those activities are actively engaged in by only a handful of American mega-commercial banks, perhaps four or five. Only 25 or 30 may be significant internationally.

Apart from the risks inherent in these activities, they also present virtually insolvable conflicts of interest with customer relationships, conflicts that simply cannot be escaped by an elaboration of so-called Chinese walls between different divisions of an institution. The further point is that the three activities at issue — which in themselves are legitimate and useful parts of our capital markets — are in no way dependent on commercial banks’ ownership. These days there are literally thousands of independent hedge funds and equity funds of widely varying size perfectly capable of maintaining innovative competitive markets. Individually, such independent capital market institutions, typically financed privately, are heavily dependent like other businesses upon commercial bank services, including in their case prime brokerage. Commercial bank ownership only tilts a “level playing field” without clear value added.

I guess he's saying commercial banks should not also be hedge funds. I am gathering from the article that "capital market institutions" are hedge funds.

Here's a satisfying quote that I do understand, though.

I am well aware that there are interested parties that long to return to “business as usual,” even while retaining the comfort of remaining within the confines of the official safety net. They will argue that they themselves and intelligent regulators and supervisors, armed with recent experience, can maintain the needed surveillance, foresee the dangers and manage the risks.

In contrast, I tell you that is no substitute for structural change, the point the president himself has set out so strongly.

I’ve been there — as regulator, as central banker, as commercial bank official and director — for almost 60 years. I have observed how memories dim. Individuals change. Institutional and political pressures to “lay off” tough regulation will remain — most notably in the fair weather that inevitably precedes the storm.

Prosperity Without Growth

This past weekend, I finished reading Prosperity Without Growth: Economics for a Finite Planet by Tim Jackson. It is a book that is based on Jackson's work as a member of the UK Sustainable Development Commission, which put out a report called Prosperity Without Growth? A Transition to a Sustainable Economy. It is available for download here. It's basically the same as the book.

I highly recommend this.