Fungi Ethics

My new lexicon entry in the Encyclopedia of Food and Agricultural Ethics on “Fungi Ethics” is online. It can be accessed here. Fungi ethics, which is closely allied to plant ethics, describes how fungi–both for better and worse–are forever imbricated in our food systems. Fungi both destroy and enable crops. Virtually every terrestrial plant is threaded-through with endophytic fungi. A further majority trees and many plants require mycelial mycorrhizae to flourish, and will flag without these crucial extensions and transmitters of their root structure.


Electronics reuse or recycle?

I am inspired by recycled electronics. IT Asset Partners (ITAP) recently posted a video about it’s ragtag recycled electronic car surpassing in range the major three manufacturers’ (Tesla, Chevy Volt, and Nissan Leaf) top vehicles. ITAP director Eric Lundgren stresses that we should be reusing electronics rather than reducing them to their elemental components, as this process wastes all the work that went into making these parts, and it takes energy, water, and waste products in order to take apart and reuse the materials in a stripped down form. Lundgren writes,

re-use is the purest form of recycling. it creates zero carbon footprint. re-using parts/components within broken/obsolete electronics is called “hybrid recycling”. this is a much-needed and often missing part of the recycling ecosystem.’

Lundgren, who has come under attack by Microsoft for his efforts in refurbishing and distributing junked computers in a misplaced lawsuit, has made a recycled electric car for $13,000 that outpaces Tesla, Chevy, and Nissan by at least 50 miles.


The question of what is to happen with the millions of electric car batteries after their cars are junked needs to be addressed now, rather than waving the hand in a mañana fashion.



Party Foul: The semeiotics of advertising and subliminal messaging

In the Bay Area, and probably all around California, I have been seen at bus stops and on buses a very disturbing ad. What is disturbing about this advertisement, is that whoever made it failed to understand adolescent psychology. The ad says:

Underage drinking and driving: the ultimate party foul

So what’s wrong with this statement? The key word is “underage.” What this implies, is that drinking and driving if you are 21 or older, is not “the ultimate party foul, but it’s something else.” And that something else, can only be less than a big deal compared to under-aged drinking and driving. So, it’s simultaneously telling people over 21 that drinking and driving is much much worse if you are under 21, and it’s also telling people who are under 21 that it’s not as bad if you’re over 21 and drink and drive. Whichever end of the threshold you’re on, the ad challenges you to not think of drinking and driving as such as that bad of a thing.

As we know from research on children and advertising, all you have to do to make something cool, is to say “only adults can do it.” This institutes the no-kids-allowed forbidden fruit policy that precisely draws kids to do whatever they’re not supposed to do. The tobacco industry and the alcohol industry have made use of this knowledge to sell their products to underage youth for decades. So it’s baffling that the American Ad Council, which posts these public service announcements, would create a PSA like this, which completely undermines the very position one would think they’re trying to take (i.e., that nobody, especially young people, should drink and drive). What this amounts to, is simply that they need child psychologists and cultural semioticians to vet all of their Ad work. I volunteer for that position. Because as it stands, they’re messaging is creating the very opposite effect which they intend.

As Freudenberg writes, “Some industry-sponsored ‘Drink Responsibly’ campaigns, for example, use ‘strategic ambiguity’ to create messages that mean one thing to young people (e.g., ‘don’t drink too much’) and another to their parents (‘don’t drink if you’re under 21’). By telling each group what they want to hear, these advertisements offer alcohol companies positive publicity without jeopardizing market share or the recruitment of new customers” (p. 33). What is uncanny, is that Freudenberg is writing about the alcohol industry’s own fake corporate social responsibility campaigns, rather than the the American Ad Council and the National Highway Traffic Safety Association.


Freudenberg N. Lethal But Legal: Corporations, Consumption, and Protecting Public Health. New York: Oxford University Press; 2014.


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(Screenshot from the webpage full of tepid underage memes that have a lot to do with minimizing the actual potential costs of driving drunk, let alone the long-term and short-term health effects and vulnerability from excessive alcohol use)


Just as bad, the rape-prone advice “crash at their place” could cause these agencies a lawsuit if they’re not careful. It turns out that the website is no better than their ill-conceived tips. Screen Shot 2018-03-22 at 23.07.28.png

When I lived in Germany, there were lots of ads on the streets against teen rape and date rape, especially alcohol fueled. Where are the ads broaching this important subject in the US? Do we just pretend it doesn’t happen? How irresponsible is that?

Electric Cars are Not Enough for Life

As the New York Times recently reported, State SenatorScott Weiner’s California Legislature bill to increase density allotments along transit corridors is a much-needed method to solve both housing and environmental burdens. Driving, no matter how you slice it, takes more energy than public transportation, so getting people on high-quality and convenient public transportation, is a sustainability priority.

Unsurprising, however, is that many of the bluechip environmental groups, like Sierra Club, oppose higher density housing zoning near transit centers because their members may be negatively affected by, say, decreased property values from higher density. Such self-serving agendas are understandable, if misguided. Those who got in early in a housing rush, enjoy their peace and privacy, and higher density changes the feel of the neighborhood. On the other hand, a commitment to sustainability, which really means finding a livable way to continue business as usual as much as possible without too much discomfort (like cataclysmic climate change), requires simple measures like smart zoning in order to make it happen. The very notion of a transition town, or a sustainable city is based on accessible public transportation. We shouldn’t fail to see the forest of preventing climate change through the trees of inconvenience. Sustainability means that we all make some small sacrifices now in order to prevent much larger ones down the road.

Sharing the sacrifice is a fundamental principle of democratic societies. For too long, women, people of color, and the poor have had to make sacrifices (living further from work, paying more than half of their paycheck in rent, etc.) while the middle-class and wealthy have serially insulated themselves from as severe costs. Having mixed neighborhoods is a small but important gesture from those who comprise well-funded environmental groups. Overcoming internal resistance to change will allow greater accessibility for those in need of convenient housing. Higher density live/work areas (like any major city in Europe) is smart, low-carbon planning. It is effective because it obviates the need for a car. Sustainable cities are resilient because they have redundancy (more than one way to get to work), flexibility (if one option is closed, take the other), diversity, and slack (abundance, more than enough niches for everyone). California can achieve this much better with more environmentally-sound zoning. One can only hope that the major, private donor-funded environmental orgs can get on the right side of history.

The Berkeley Shellmound

Out of the almost 500 shellmounds that existed in the greater bay area, over the last few centuries, these have been systematically destroyed. The Berkeley Shellmound is the earliest of those shellmounds established in the greater Bay Area region by the people indigenous to this region, who first inhabited this area since about 3,700 B.C.E. Although destroyed on their surface, some of these shellmounds in Berkeley and Emeryville still extend 20 feet down in some parts and indigenous peoples of this area still perform ceremonies at these sites.


Now a strip mall developer is threatening the City of Berkeley to avoid due diligence in an Environmental Impact Assessment for plans to develop the Berkeley Shellmound. The Chochenyo Ohlone sacred site is in dispute currently, as the 4th Street location could either be a public common, a tribute to the indigenous people who live here and inhabited this area for thousands of years; or, it could be a strip mall with luxury loft apartments. Indigenous People Organizing for Change, a Bay Area-based organization led by Corrina Gould, has organized the submission of over 1500 letters to the City of Berkeley Planning Department supporting this space on the 1900 4th Street to support an eco-indigenous vision of a common park and indigenous monument and event area. Five letters supported a developer’s project. At the same time, a developer has proposed a 5-story condominium retail complex on the 2.2 acre site (at 1900 4th St.) that is Spenger’s parking lot.


The City of Berkeley has an easy win here. There is not a need for more retail, or luxury housing. While it’s true that the Bay Area has a housing crisis, further luxury housing isn’t going to ameliorate that. Density in places close to public transportation (i.e. close to BART), and close to UC Berkeley campus, at student and low-income-friendly prices, is the type of housing Berkeley needs. We don’t need another million dollar loft apartment to further gentrify our up and coming neighborhoods.


Transitioning this parking lot into a public resource, restoring the sacred site to the extent possible, and daylighting Strawberry Creek on this land, are all no brainers for the City of Berkeley to live up to hits reputation of open-mindedness and justice. It would be a shame for the City to rest on its now aging laurels and allow this rare sacred site to be converted into profits for some developer and awkward unneeded development.

Protecting the West Berkeley Shellmound should be a priority of the Berkeley City government and Zoning Board. To do otherwise will signal a strong rejection of its legacy of environmentalism, social justice, and sensitivity and commitments to diversity and indigenous peoples.



Totalitarian Hyperbole

One of the great things about empire is it doesn’t attempt to hide its monstrosity. The latest “Military Parade” stunt, normally reserved in Western cultural imaginations for Stalinist USSR, Maoist China, and North Korea, has now come home to roost. The spiritual decedents of Prussian government, the command and control act of the US government, long warned by its own commander and chief as a Military Industrial Complex, is reaching new vulgar displays of power (to quote the title of the metal band Pantera’s best-selling album). We’ve got the quintessential fast-talking recovering coke addict playing the part of the president, and a cabinet to back up this vaudeville act. The only problem, of course, is that if we don’t put our foot down to the endless tomfoolery, that more and more people will suffer and die, far into the future, as a result of our negligence as citizens in charge of maintaining sanity in our land.

Native Americans, Muslims, Latinos, African Americans, women, and LGBTQ communities are the hardest hit, and the most woke to the ratcheting up of the reign of terror they have already been experiencing since before the dawn of US statehood. The savagery and exclusionism, the dehumanization, and arbitrary violence against these groups has caused them to be much more aware of the injustices systematically imposed by generations of American leaders, and written into the Constitution. It’s been slow going too for middle-class and poor white Americans to realize that they are next in line on the chopping block. Part of the problem of the cognitive isolationism of American culture is that we are wholly unaware of the crimes perpetrated world wide in order to keep us from noticing.

As Rob Nixon writes in Slow Violence, “It is a pervasive condition of empires that they affect great swaths of the planet without the empire’s populace being aware of that impact–indeed, without being aware that many of the affected places even exist” (p. 35). Our ignorance is their currency of continued plunder. We are underwriting “making the world safe for democracy,” by not actually keeping tabs on the rest of the world or democracy. This is because, Nixon argues, capitalism has an “innate tendency to abstract in order to extract,” allowing the “body count of slow violence” to be “diffused–and defused–by time” (p. 41).

When The Hill reports that “Opponents of the parade, both Democratic and Republican, have argued that a military demonstration of this level could send the wrong message and make the U.S. appear ‘totalitarian,'” that should give us cause to stop and think. Instead of barreling ahead with more disastrous displays of our collective buffoonery, such a blatantly superficial and bellicose act could, in a world not overworked by the exigencies of capitalism, serve as yet another rallying point for diplomacy, reason, and de-escalation–in a similar way that the uproar and direct action in response to Florida’s recent school shooting is f i n a l l y causing even the most retrograde politicians and unrelenting corporations to distance themselves from the NRA and propose concrete solutions to the exceptional deadly gun violence.

We need more #metoo moments, but not manufactured ones in order to take down the opposition. We need to expose those who warrant exposing. The games of politics have always been rife with blackmail, espionage, and intrigue. But rape and pedophilia, still appallingly frequent in the most hallowed halls of government, deserves punishment to the fullest extent of the law, and restitution to all victims. When these various movements, and their courageous leaders see the intersectionality of the violence they successfully have been fighting against, then real transformation will happen, and then, perhaps, we don’t have to worry about our elected officials calling US plans and actions totalitarian.

Try this in your next meeting

I just came upon a great little app/website Are Men Talking Too Much? that is a simple and humorous counter that allows tracking the gender of the person speaking in a meeting. I like this because I am prone to talk too much, and over the years, through great effort, have done some work to pay more and more attention regarding proper etiquette in dealing with others. I’ve enjoyed this transformation, and have learned much by deepening my listening skills and hearing important information that might not have been shared had I unconsciously dominated the conversation. Screen Shot 2018-02-21 at 21.58.11.png

At the same time, in this international conversation on enhancing freedom of speech for all, it is important not to essentialize certain qualities like domination to a specific sex. A person belonging to any group can display laudable or abhorrent behavior. People of a given gender or sex, or culture, etc., are not a monolith. This is diversity 101.

Of course, men tend to have higher acculturated propensities for not picking up on social cues and dominating (because they have been able to get away with it, and even sometimes valorized for doing so). So, it’s important to correct these imbalances.

The simple act of timing who speaks, and for how long, can lay bare some otherwise tangled emotional justifications around a problem that, at its root, in some ways can be fixed through less complicated means than some might admit. It’s this elegance, of sharing time, giving and taking, and keeping an eye out for fairness and justice which is ever-so-relevant and sorely needed in this welcome #metoo era.