Monday, October 20, 2008

Where My Moral Compass Points

As I alluded to in a comment on the previous thread, outlining my moral compass last week has really helped put some things in perspective. It helped me to realize that energy/environmental/economic issues are very important to me. For whatever reason, these are things I think about (and have always thought about since at least 8th or 9th grade). When I brainstorm business ideas, I think of these issues.

So I've decided, for the present, that this is the area I want to put my energies. I'm applying for a canvasing job with a local environmental group (not my ideal thing, but its a start and its a job). I've also been working on a business plan for starting a web page about these issues. I'm still working out exactly what tone I want to take. Maybe you have some thoughts? My overall goals are to 1) Provide balanced information and and analysis of issues, and 2) Propose solutions and discuss them with readers. Something like, but covering a wider variety of topics and having more accessible content.

I am also interested if anyone would like to help develop the site, contribute writing, etc. The reason I want to put ads on the website is to possibly eventually support myself (or ourselves) enough to dedicate more time to the project. I am somewhat concerned with moral implications of this, etc. I'm really not sure exactly where I stand on the issue.

Anyways, here is the business proposal. I've spent the week writing this and about a half dozen other partial or whole articles, which is why this is the week's "essay."

Business Plan

Description of Business

The business is an educational and entertaining website that teaches readers about all issues relating to this issue: “We have a finite world. Our economy is designed for ever increasing growth. How do we transition to a sustainable way of life? The site will cover environmental issues, propose solutions, promote activism, evaluate important news items, and offer numerous how-to articles and product evaluations.

The tone of the website will be serious overall, with bits of sarcasm, recurring references, and humor to add life and create a feeling of humanity and community.


Content will initially be divided into three subsets: 1) Essays 2) News 3) Evaluations. Essays will be published 2-3 times per week, and will cover a variety of issues. They will be longer, and address macro topics as well as micro. Most “Green” websites concentrate on micro issues, and many of them propose new, “green” products to help us change our ways. While this is a step in the right direction, the value of such things needs to be closely examined. This business will do that. It will also work to pose solutions, even if they need some work, to these problems, and not just identify the problem.

The Finite Planet wants to move beyond the generally agreed paradigm of the Green movement, which consists of small communities, locally grown foods and a local economy in general, recycling, renewable energy, (ADD). The Finite Planet sympathizes with these ideas, but finds them lacking in many regards and in need of explanation and expansion in every regard.

The format in which news is presented still needs to be determined. We will mostly cover important scientific discoveries, oil, environmental and economic related news.

The website will do some book reviews and product evaluations. Book reviews will be done for recent as well as older books, with the goal being that I only write reviews for things I like and can recommend. If I do negative reviews, they will be for popular products, like bottled water, and the tone would be more sarcastic. Product reviews will concentrate on the following questions: How oily is this product? How necessary is it? How oily are the alternatives?

The website will also include an ever-growing compendium of internet resources, which are expertly indexed and organized. The main page will include a link to *NEW* resources.

Game Plan

Phase 1: Pre-Hosting

1) Write initial static content. As with all content, as much emphasis as possible should be placed on teaching. This is ESPECIALLY true for static or “pillar” articles. This includes the following articles:
a. An overview of our economic and credit system
b. What is peak oil? (Initial entry)
i. Cover the “what” portion, and save the “when” for further investigation?
c. The Green Movement
i. An article describing the mainstream Green Movement. Define it, talk about its good qualities, but also be critical of it.
ii. Make sure to cover the pros and cons of the merger between environmentalism and business.
d. (TITLE TBD) – This essay will be a sequel to the Green Movement essay. The first looks at where we are and how far we’ve come. This essay will lay out The Finite Earth’s core principles and try to show how we will move the conversation forward.
e. The Myth of Energy Independence (Essay)
i. Go after Obama, McCain, and politicians in general for misleading American as to what this would actually take. It might be a good political talking point, but its not a very effective way of thinking about policy.
f. An article discussing/defining what we mean by sustainability. Base this on Dan and my discussion, so include population.
g. A review of solar laptop chargers.
h. An “About” page and mission statement.
2) Write first six essays (about two weeks worth of material).
3) Compose an initial compendium of resources
a. Go through wikipedia entries on various renewable energy. Consider cataloging them, and search them for links to useful reports, pages, etc.
4) Begin to write out an index of technical terms such as kWH and EROEI, with explanations. This will be an ongoing project.
5) Hand-draw webpage layout
6) Investigate blog networks.

Phase 2: Pre-Launch

1) Install and experiment with different web software (Wordpress, Drupal, etc.)
2) Build webpage
3) Sign up for Google Analytics service
4) Figure out how social aggregator’s work and sign up for appropriate ones
5) Scout for possible pages, blogs, etc. on which to promote website
6) Find blog carnivals to submit essays
7) Have Morgan do a copy-edit
8) Ask friends to visit website and give feedback

Phase 3: Launch

1) Troubleshoot
2) Promote site (Need to determine how)
3) List blog on places such as Eaton Web, Globe of Blogs, BlogShares and Blog Street.
4) Sign-up for advertising.
5) Add an “e-mail your friend” option.

Monthly Goals



The business’ marketing campaign will be internet based, word of mouth. Quality and consistency in our content will be the main force of attraction. The business will experiment promoting through aggregators such as Slashdot, Reddit, Stumbleupon, Delicious, and Digg. Articles and pages will also have titles that are search friendly, though we will not optimize for search engines to the detriment of content.

We will support RSS feeds, participate in blog carnivals, and network with other websites.

The business will also investigate doing a newsletter to help remind people of the site’s existence and keep them coming back.

The business does not plan on spending money on any sort of advertising.

The Finite World is one part policy, two parts education and teaching. The latter needs to be emphasized especially, because that’s what is going to attract traffic and attention.

The general approach for each article needs to be: This is what you need to know, and I’m going to tell you.

Articles will have informative yet catchy titles. Formatting for articles will be very important. Experiment with different formats, but remember to take a look at Mr. Electricity’s webpage and others for inspiration on how to arrange subtitles, bold first lines, etc.

The website will be relatively personal. Not so much that its called or anything like that, but it will include catchy, snarky phrases. This will include things like Mark’s rules of the universe. Rule #4, for example, is “that people tend to believe the end of the world is upon us. This is only warranted when it comes to things like nuclear holocaust. Otherwise, we need to think clearly, keep a level head, and take decisive action. The end of the world as you know it is not the same as the end of the world.”

Marketing To-Do List

1) Find blogs that you like with comment pages and comment on them. If it is allowed, link back to your blog when relevant.
2) Research and possibly use Feedburner.
3) Create a newsletter
4) Participate in blog carnivals
5) Submit to blog/webpage directories
6) Submit to Google sitemaps (if you’re using Wordpress, this might be useful:
7) Browse for other blogs on similar topics, find ones you like, and smooze on message boards, etc.
8) Make sure that you do trackbacks.


Initial start-up costs are as follows:

1) Domain Registration: $10/year
2) Hosting: About $10/month, depending on which plan is selected.

Domain registration costs are fixed. Hosting costs will increase as site traffic (and incomes) increases.

The website expects to earn money from a number of different sources. Here are the four types of income streams I will probably begin with:

1) Adsense – I anticipate Google’s Adsense to account for the largest percentage of the business’s income.
a. Problogger recommends to wait a little while before applying to adsense, because they want your site to have a reasonable amount of content. On the other hand, how do all of the typo sites have advertisements if this is true? The post was from 2004, so look into this some more and see if its changed.
b. REMEMBER – NEVER click on your own ads or encourage your readers to click on them.
c. Center, top left, and the footer are the best places to put Adsense ads. In-text ads are also very effective, though you should experiment with them so that they aren’t annoying.
2) Adwords – Another part of Google-based advertising
3) Affiliate Programs – Links to Powells, Amazon, and other online retailers, where the business earns money when people click through to purchase.
4) Donation requests – Visitors can donate money via PayPal.

Listed below are some more methods of earning money that could be used.

5) Custom Advertising – This is an option that I will probably only get into if someone approaches me, because this isn’t the place I want to put my time.
6) - This one in particular is recommended by Problogger.
11) Maybe some of these?: Azoogle Ads, Intelli Txt, DoubleClick, Tribal Fusion, Adbrite, Clicksor, AdHearUs, Kanoodle, Pheedo, TextAds, Bidvertiser, Fastclick and Value Click
a. Note: This list was taken off of a 2005 article, so you might want to look around for newer options. On the other hand, it should be obvious which ones of these are good by which ones have survived.

Possible Topics

- Shale Oil
- What is Peak Oil? (Series)
- Electricity
- Geothermal
- Solar Power
- Wind
- Extranaloties, externalized costs - Those things where something has a cost that isn’t included in the dollar estimation of it. I.e. air pollution from a car.
o Compare externalized costs as robbery with the argument used to say that graduated taxes are robbery.
- Why efficiency is so more important than increasing supplies.
- Natural Gas
- Coal
- Liquid Coal
- Ethanol
- Ethanol vs. Bio-diesel
- Cellulose-based Ethanol
- Fertilizer
- Industrial Farming
- Can organic farming feed the world?
- Transportation
o Cars
o Planes
o Boats
o Trains
o Buses
o Share-car programs
o Bikes
o Walking
o Scooters
- Water scarcity
- Collapsing fish stocks
- Forests, and why we need them
- Local food
- Gardening
- Small Wind
- Personal solar
- Solar thermal
- Drill heating (or whatever you call those systems that drill into the ground to heat homes)
- Metal
- Industrial energy use
- Helium
- Concrete manufacturing
- We need a world-oriented approach.
- Meat
- Energy efficiency and reducing use (multiple articles)
- Global warming vs. other problems
- Buy used, buy less
- Commercial buildings
- Plastics
- What’s the difference between bio-diesel and ethanol?
- Hemp and Marijuana
- Batteries
- The electric grid
- Water problems
- Building materials
- The Genuine Progress Indicator (See wiki article)
- Tourism
o What is “eco”-tourism anyhow?
- Ordering online vs. driving to the store
- Home size
- Growth economies
- The need for a new economic system (see:
- Two good, related articles for thinking of article ideas: 1) and 2)
- Netflix vs. Driving to video store vs. Walking to video store.
- Moving beyond the generally agreed paradigm of the Green movement, which consists of small communities, locally grown foods and a local economy in general, (ADD). The Finite Planet sympathizes with these ideas, but finds them lacking in many regards and in need of explanation and expansion in every regard.
- Eating out vs. eating in.

Monday, October 13, 2008

My Moral Foundation

This week’s post is a bit different. A thought experiment. A bit more personal.
I have been struggling, for at least my entire adult life, to find a moral compass. What should I do with my life? To reason out a direction for my life. What is the most logical action to take? I’ve searched for inspiration in books, in the lives of others. Who do I want to emulate? Whose path can I use for inspiration and guidance?
These investigations have not been fruitless. The conversations I’ve had with my friends have been priceless. The books I’ve read, informative and instructional.
The conclusion that I’m reaching is that this isn’t something to be reasoned or taught. Others can provide inspiration for achievement. The overall direction is something written deep inside the soul (for lack of a better term). My moral compass, the values that I believe in, has been more or less engrained inside me when I was young by forces I cannot really comprehend. Conditioning, or something like that.
And it is definitely, definitely a predominately emotional thing.
I don’t claim I can always follow every part of my moral compass. It would be untrue.
Below, I list as many components of my moral compass as I can think of, as I think of them. By trying to lay my moral compass out, I hope I can become more aware of my moral compass and use this as a guide to discover what I will find most fulfilling in life. I’d be interested to know what you think of this exercise, if you think I’m on the right path, if you think my premises are off, or how you have discovered what you may want to do with your life.

1) Promote understanding.
2) Do not hold every error a person commits against them.
3) Be responsible with money.
4) Do not live beyond your means.
5) It is important to work toward your goals.
6) Accept responsibility for your actions.
7) Value friendship.
8) Beyond meeting basic physical needs, fulfilling human relationships are the most necessary thing for happiness.
9) “Natural areas” or “the outdoors” are good and worth preserving.
10) Being greedy and selfish will not make one happy.
11) Privacy is a right.
12) A person’s actions should cause no undue harm on other people.
13) Polluting and littering are not good things to do and should be avoided.
14) People have the right to consenting relationships, to create, share, and promote ideas, and to assemble.
15) If one comes across another in need, it is good to help them out.
16) Every person has obligations to every other person. For example, we have an obligation not to torture.
17) My knowledge of the world is imperfect and subject to change when new facts present themselves.
18) When making value judgments or moral decisions, the specific circumstances of the situation should be taken into consideration.
19) Waste is bad. We should reuse and recycle. Energy should come from immediately renewable and long-lasting sources, such as the sun, wind, hydro, and geothermal.
20) Concerning government or society, a more long term view is always needed.
21) I believe in secularism in government (i.e. no religion is favored) and freedom of religion in private life.

I am sure this is an incomplete list, and I will update it as I think of more items.
Should I accept these as an unchangeable part of myself, like my height or the color of my eyes? Or should I strive to change my moral compass to something else? If so, how would a new path be chosen?

Sunday, October 5, 2008

What Foreign Policy? Searching for a Coherent Foreign Policy Since the End of the Cold War

Its seems to me that the United States hasn’t had a coherent foreign policy since the collapse of the Soviet Union. With our “existential” enemy vanquished, we have become free floating, wandering in search of a purpose. While the Bush administration has put forth some opinions on foreign policy, I do not consider them to constitute a coherent policy because they revolve around the administration’s doctrine of the unitary executive.

From the late 1940’s or early 1950’s until 1988, U.S. foreign policy (as I understand it from reading in books) was to prevent to spread of communism and the influence of the Soviet Union. This logic influenced a number of wars we directly participated in (Korea, Cuba, Vietnam, Nicaragua and Afghanistan to name a few). It also influenced our relationship with Europe through NATO.

That’s not to say that fighting communism was the only pillar of our foreign policy, nor that it was followed in every case. But it was a coherent, understandable policy that was applied with regularity. Different presidents might have fought communism differently, but they still all fought communism with the same end-goal in mind.

The Bush Foreign Policy

George W. Bush would probably point to the following doctrines and say “This is our current foreign policy.” 1) preventative strikes, 2) preventing our enemies from developing or acquiring WMDs, 3) fighting for democracy, and 4) defeating the terrorists. While this might be our current foreign policy, it is not a coherent foreign policy.

The Bush administration’s theory of the unitary executive works to place as much decision making policy in the hands of the Executive branch, with the President as its unambiguous head. Though a unitary executive and coherent foreign policy are not mutually exclusive, Bush has used the former as an excuse to ignore the latter. Foreign policy, like most of Bush’s policies, rely solely on the pleasure of the president, and not on any reasoned or thought out policy that is transferable to the next president.

A coherent foreign policy provides U.S. leadership, across administrations, with the same outline under which to make decisions. A new president can change the former’s policy, but should do so in a form that they can hand off to their own successor. A foreign policy that is coherent can, for the most part, be carried out by the Secretary of State and her deputies down to the rank and file diplomats without the President’s direct knowledge or consent. With a coherent foreign policy, a lower-ranking official can make decisions if needs be at a moment’s notice and be fairly confident that their actions are in line with the overall objectives of the President and the country.

In his speech at the Republican National Convention, President Bush reminisced that he knows what it takes to be president, because every day he looks at the daily intelligence briefings, at the reports of attacks and threats to our national security. I am arguing that, while it is important for the president to be briefed and kept up-to-date with the state of things, he shouldn’t be spending his time pouring over daily threat reports, but should instead be considering the bigger picture.

Lets take a look at each Bush policy and see why none are coherent.

Preventative Strikes

The “doctrine” of preemptive strike is probably the worst. Bush’s doctrine of preemptive strike is based in what I call Rumsfieldian logic. Rumsfieldian logic is based on the fact that there are things you know, things you know you don’t know, and things you don’t know that you don’t know. If you know something, you can act on it. If you know that you don’t know something, the subject can be investigated.

But how does a leader deal with the “unknown unknowns?” Well, you strike before they strike you. Cheney explained how this logic leads to the 1% doctrine: “If there's a 1% chance that Pakistani scientists are helping al-Qaeda build or develop a nuclear weapon, we have to treat it as a certainty in terms of our response. It's not about our analysis ... It's about our response.”

I don’t even know where to start. Luckily, John Stewart has already did my job for me in his two-part interview with Douglas Feith, a proponent and enabler of the 1% doctrine:

I want to emphasize the fact that the 1% doctrine has not been followed through on. The Bush administration has not treated all . It is simply just another smoke screen thrown up to pretend that we have a coherent foreign policy.


The Bush administration’s efforts to deny our enemies access to WMDs would be a coherent policy if whom we considered to be our “enemy” could be determined by some measure besides identification by the President. Before Bush, this issue might have been handled under the coherent policy of non-proliferation. But Bush canned this possibility when he withdrew the U.S. from the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.

Spreading Democracy

A foreign policy that promotes the spread of democracy could conceivably be a coherent foreign policy, though it has not been under the Bush administration. For this to be a coherent policy, we would need a definition, or at least an outline, of what “democracy” means. Is a democracy a place where people vote? If so, does it count if women can’t vote? An answer of “no” would mean the U.S. only became a democracy in 1920. I don’t propose to set a ridged definition of what a democracy is because there are countless such issues. One important aspect of democracy as a governing system is its flexibility.

Another important reason why spreading democracy doesn’t count as a coherent policy for the Bush administration is that it has never sacrificed anything to promote it. “Fighting for Democracy” is just a veneer used to cover pre-existing policy. Until a month ago, Bush offered nothing but praise for Russia and Vladamir Putin. The invasion of Georgia sparked outrage from the administration not because it is a democracy, but because it is a U.S. ally. The U.S. stood by when ally General Musharraf ousted judges and otherwise ruled as a dictator. Musharraf only recently resigned as a result of internal opposition. The U.S. supported Palestinian elections, until they elected the wrong side.

As for the “War on Terror,” I’ve shared my thoughts here.

Americans, and especially their political representatives, like to say that the United States is the greatest or most powerful country on Earth. Whether we are or not is a matter of taste, a matter of how you measure things. What is true, I believe, is that acting like we are the greatest country is not smart foreign policy. In order for the world to progress

Politicians from both political parties spew more platitudes relating to foreign policy than almost any other topic besides the economy and the War on DrugsTM when its in. Why do these topics attract such brain numbing commentary? Because unlike issues such as abortion, education, the environment, veteran affairs, and national infrastructure, the Federal Government can’t really do as much about foreign policy.

As far as the economy goes, the Feds can indirectly effect change through monetary policy (interest rates, money supply, etc.), trade policy, tax policy, and by regulating interstate trade. While that may sound like a lot, the Feds can’t really do a whole lot to “help” or “save” the economy (as is often claimed) without major shifts in the country’s attitudes (in which case you can throw out almost everything I’ve written on this blog as no longer relevant). For reasons why the Feds can’t effect drug use, see my essay here.

Likewise, the United States government has very limited control over other countries without military intervention. This is increasingly becoming the case as the economic success of China, India, the EU – just about everywhere – limits the amount of impact sanctions and other sorts of financial actions have.