A Capital Idea Part 107: Hurrah for Redundancy and Inefficiency (Sort of)

Here's a really exciting topic, economic diversity, redundancy, and inefficiency. It must be right up there with bored meetings -- oops, I mean board meetings -- in terms of excitement. Actually, this is a very interesting topic on an intellectual level, which is usually where I am at, although, speaking of redundancy, I know I have touched on this topic before, but hey, that was so long ago, I can scarcely remember what I wrote. Hopefully, this post will add something new to what I had done before.

Here again, I assert that ultimately, a good economy must mirror the workings of a good ecosystem. Good ecosystems include a plethora of diverse lifeforms which interact synergistically in such a way that a healthy, stable ecosystem results. Thus, a good ecosystem is diverse, but more than this, it contains redundancies, and even inefficiencies. I am not speaking as an ecologist here, but I have studied enough biology that I can make some fairly educated statements about how ecosystems work. Perhaps an ecologist could add even more or correct any misconceptions I might have about ecosystems.

Redundancies in an ecosystem include:

1. More individuals than are necessary to maintain a breeding population;

2. A variety of species which occupy the same or similar ecological niches, and ;

3. The repetition of similar environments in different parts of the world, most likely occupied by a different set of species in different areas.

Translated into economic terms, diversity means having a wide variety of goods and services available, both governmental and non-governmental. I say non-governmental rather than privately owned, because I feel we must avoid the empire-building, monopolistic tendencies of privately owned large businesses, but such ventures as economic cooperatives are a healthy alternative, along with limited size, smaller businesses.

Having a lot of individuals translates into having lots of small businesses or cooperatives, while having a variety of species occupying similar niches, translates into having a lot of small businesses or cooperatives which perform similar functions, even in the same area, giving customers more options.

The repetition of similar environments, translates into having similar economies occuring around the world. Why is this important? Well, when the Yellowstone supervolcano erupts and wipes out 1/3 of the United States, for example, there will be well-prepared people to rebuild once the dust and toxic smoke settle, and the mini-ice age the eruption causes, subsides. Sorry to be so morose, but basically, this is Gaia's disaster insurance, and large scale disasters have occured periodically throughout this planet's history, most famously, the postulated collusion with an asteroid in what is now the ocean to the north of the Yucatan Peninsula, that is thought to have caused the extinction of the dinosaurs 63 million years ago, and I infer, was so powerful that it appears to have caused a rift in Pangeia which resulted in the separate and drifting continents we now know. This same event is thought to be responsible for allowing our evolution, but if mammals had not already evolved, in more primitive form than those we know today, the niches vacated by the demise of the dinosaurs would not have so easily been re-occupied. (Notice how I worked in the word "occupy" here.)

Now I go to the strangest, most counterintuitive aspect of the ecological analogy to the economy -- inefficiency. In terms of the ecology, inefficiency happens in a variety of ways which actually help make an ecological system work:

1. As Darwin noted, every species overproduces young, which means that mortality of the young -- a form of "inefficiency" -- is built into the system. We humans, of course, are currently dealing with the fact that we have drastically reduced childhood mortality rates, resulting in a huge, planet engulfing population boom. It nice that we humans are thriving, but not so much when it threatens the health of our planet's ecosystem, and ultimately, our own quality of life and threatens to cause drastic future die-offs of humans around the world;

2. All lifeforms have regular mutations, few of which are ever incorporated into future species DNA. However, those few mutations which are advantageous and are incorporated into the DNA of future generations or species, are of extreme importance, evolutionarily. This abundance of assorted mutations, also represents a sort of inefficiency, but one which allows evolution to procede;

3. Lifeforms are relatively inefficient at collecting or utilizing energy. Only a small fraction of the sun's energy which reaches the earth, for instance, is captured by plants. Much of that plant energy, when ingested by animals, is not fully utilized, either, while other plant energy is ultimately deposited as fossil fuels. This form of inefficiency creates a reserve of energy which could be utilized at a later time. That time is now in terms of fossil fuels, but we had better wean ourselves from these fuels quickly, before they run out. More importantly, energies such as the sun's rays warming the ground and oceans of the world, create the environment which life needs in order to thrive.

Translated into economic terms, the overproduction of young translates into, I suppose for example, the plethora of restaurants that go out of business -- in other words, all those small little baby businesses which compete with each other for economic "survival," either with or without nurturing "parents."

Mutations, in economic terms, translates into new ideas, including technological and scientific advances of various kinds, as well as new knowledge in the social sciences and new economic philosophies -- that is, the stuff of which economic progress and reforms are made.

The inefficiency at collecting and utilizing energy, might best be translated into the value of labor and having a good labor environment. I have heard a couple of people propose that perhaps too much mechanization of business is a bad thing. For one thing, machines do not engage in self-correction, as humans can. If they malfunction, they continue to malfunction or become even worse, until humans fix the problem. A more fundamental problem with the mechanization of business, from the standpoint of capital ideas, is that it redirects the flow of capital to the owner of the machine -- that is, the business owner -- rather than to employees, and here we are wondering why the rich keep getting richer, the poor keep getting poorer, and the unemployment rate is chronically high. Mechanization has a lot to do with that, although it certainly isn't the only reason. Of course, as people ever since the dawn of the industrial era have recognized, there is no substitution for the human element in our lives, even in economic interactions. Using more labor intensive means of production or service is a way of keeping people employed at least reasonably productively, and building an economic base from the bottom up, which is the way that really works, rather than from the top down (which is sort of like having the entire ecosystem depend upon its predators and parasites, which would quickly cause the collapse of the ecosystem).

So there you have it: Hurrah for redundancy, inefficiency, and of course, the ever popular diversity (just so long as it doesn't refer to violence as part of a "diversity of tactics" by OWS protesters)! Sooner or later, a working economy with long term utility to humanity, must incorporate these principles as it learns to mimic what is successful in making a healthy ecology.


Robindell's picture
Robindell 8 years 2 weeks ago

Your use of the term "privately owned large businesses" is somewhat unclear because many of these corporations are, technically speaking, publically owned, by the shareholders. I would imagine that the control of stock varies quite a bit from one company to another. In some publically traded companies, you might have a big block of stock owned by the founding family, but I am not sure that this is always the case.

The corporate model is affected by both ideology and globalization. The old T.V. show The Twilight Zone had an episode about the head of a manufacturing company who brought in a super-computer to run the whole operation. There were dramatic scenes between the company president who extolled the virtues of automation and the beauty of efficiency and his long-time chief engineer who talked about how a machine can never replace the intuition, judgment, and pride of a human worker. Rod Sterling was sometimes a bit predictable in his stories, and in this one, the president himself ends up in the neighborhood tavern after being removed by the Board of Directors, and he complains that you can't just take a man and throw him out into the street after years of loyal service, which is exactly what he had done to his workers. The late Kurt Vonnegut Jr. had a more sophisticated take on this theme in his first novel, Piano Player. I read it many years ago and will have to reread it someday, but I remember that there were a lot of idle workers whose services were no longer needed in the scientfically-run, automated society.

I don't know what experience you may or may not have working in commercial industry, but I have found that having too many workers can be just as problematic at times as not having enough people to do the work. Getting it right is not just a matter of philosophy or of platitudes. There comes a time when you may have too many people in one department or assigned to a particular job, and then there are times when there are openings for new employees. Some people have stable employment, but others change jobs either because they want a change, or because they are let go. Former Clinton Administration Secretary of Labor Robert Reich has taught at several different universities since he was secretary. If I recall, he is now at Berkeley.

If you cut back in health care funding, hospitals may experience layoffs or even may close down. My uncle, a physician, was once Chief of Anesthesiology at a large urban hospital. He went into this branch of medicine because his personality was such that he didn't like dealing with patients when they were awake and preferred to work on them when they were asleep and undergoing surgery. Later, he became a blood bank administrator. This hospital consisted of several buildings. Today, the institution has been torn down to make room for some future housing development. No doubt, many of the patients could either not afford to pay for services or had Medicaid or Medicare which didn't bring in enough revenue for the hospital to remain viable. I would also guess that with improved treatments and with more outpatient surgery, the need for hospitalization is somewhat reduced today. Did you know that Medicare does not cover pre-surgical diagnostic tests? These tests are necessary for patients undergoing surgery to make sure that they don't have any conditions that would result in dangerous complications, which would either require monitoring during surgery, or postponement.

Technology seems to be a rather complex factor when it comes to employment. Computers create the need for all kinds of technical workers: network hookup experts, database administrators, security people, software engineers, programmers, repair personnel, and so forth, but many clerks who used paper and pencils or typewriters have gone by the wayside. Heavy industry has had a shrunken workforce from robotics and automation. But there are new jobs in manufacturing requiring more knowledge and skill in running different machines than existed in a simpler time when there were more unskilled, repetitive jobs.

Even though business under capitalisim is based on making money and on greed, it seems as if America has lost compassion. In this regard, I would be critical of the culture of higher education, where, based on my own observations as well as on some books on the subject, there is more emphasis on money and material success and less on imparting virtues and values and on learning for the intrinsic worth of knowledge acquisition. Professionals who provide services have certainly been on an upward spiral in terms of how much they charge. I don't see where doctors and lawyers are doing all that much pro bono work.

There are too many people in this country, including from the Baby Boom generation, who are unwilling to consider alternative organizational or economic models. Once again, I think our educational system fails to teach Americans to have an open mind. I am reminded of the the title of the book, The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom.

The other aspect to this is the problem the earth faces of overpopulation, a matter of demography. The county where I live was once quite rural in nature. Since the early 1970s, new highways have been built, and more and more acres of housing subdivisions have sprung up where there were once forests or farmland. Drivers were once fairly polite and respectful of others, and you could drive down country roads and barely encounter another vehicle. Now, people tailgate me if I don't go at least 10 miles over the speed limit, and there are cars everywhere. Industry has placed a certain premium on efficiency, and thus, we have too many people and not enough jobs. Even if Obama could raise the taxes of the top earners without being blocked by Congress or threatened by right wing corporate lobbyists and bring in some more revenues, I am not sure that the government would readily be able to afford a WPA-style jobs creation program.

Indiana of all places supposedly had the first WPA project in the country. For at least part of FDR's time as president, we had one of the strongest New Deal supporters as governor. At Indiana University, there is a dormitory called McNutt Quadrangle named after Democratic Governor Paul McNutt. According to Wikepedia, Roosevelt asked McNutt, who was a Harvard Law School graduate, for the support of the Indiana delegation, but McNutt, who wanted the nomination for himself, was rude to Roosevelt. For the next election, McNutt wanted to be considered as FDR's running mate, but Roosevelt did not forget how he had been treated by McNutt, who remained Indiana's governor. McNutt worked to bring thousands of government-sponsored jobs to the state in the years leading up the war. Today, people seem as if they could care less if their neighbor has a job and enough food to eat, despite all the religiosity that exists in America. My state senator complained that they had to spend time passing a bill that allows creationism to be taught in the public schools, when there are so many other issues that could have been taken up. And as you no doubt know, Indiana for the second time in the state's history has become a Right to Work (for less) state.

There is something to be said for efficiency as workers have to be paid, and if you have too many employees, that cost would have to be passed along to the consumer. But then, unemployment has a substantial cost, both financial and psychological, on society.

One final point is a story that I read about on a Web site that sends me occasional emails. It seems that a developmentally disabled employee of HyVee, which is the primary supermarket chain in Iowa, had the job of collecting returned bottles and cans and processing them. He previously had been written up for cashing in credit slips which others had left and which he found, not on purpose, but because he mixed them up with his family's own credit slips for returned beverage containers. He cashed in .20 worth of slips left by a customer which he found in his pocket when he was apparently redeeming his own slips from home, so they fired him over the .20. The Web site started a petition to get his job back, and after many signed the petition, the company offered the man a different job, first, a lower-paying position without benefits, and then, as more complaints rolled in, a different job, described as a "corporate" job, probably at the company's headquarters, which is probably in Des Moines. The comments on the Web site at the end of the article were almost all in favor of the disabled employee and against HyVee's actions. The people said that the company had acted stupidly and demonstrated corporate greed and a lack of compassion, firing a man with a cognitive disability over a mere .20. Many of the people pointed out that the bad publicity from this firing would cost the company a lot more than 20 cents in lost business. Some wondered if the man would be able to do this "corporate job" and if the company was trying to set him up for failure. It's good to read that there are concerned citizens in this country, but at the same time, the trend is still troubling in term future reforms and helping people to find work.

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 8 years 2 weeks ago

I hadn't thought of the stock issue. I still think of those corporations as privately owned, and stock holders as gampblers/investors, but maybe I should just say "large corporations."

I saw that episode of the twilight zone a couple of times fairly recently. My wife found that show on one of our channels, when I was out teaching I think, so I started watching it although many episodes are "yucky" and obviously unrealistic. I think the Twlight Zone prompted me to have a vision of a post-apocalyptic future I described in a blog post before, when most people have been killed but computers continue to calculate their compound interest many years after they have died -- "Congratulations, Mr. Smith, you are now officially a millionnaire" announces the computer. Maybe there was something like that in one of the Twilight Zone episodes. I thought of the episode you mentioned and some other shows tangentially as I wrote this post, too -- for instance, a similar episode of The Monkees I saw recently in reruns.

Notice that in the beginning of the text, I use the qualifier "sort of." What really is efficient or inefficient is not that simple a matter to determine, like the developmentally disabled man who accidentally cashed other people's credit slips, for which he was fired. HyVee thought he was too incompetent and inefficient for his job, but firing him was much more inefficient. In a larger sense, the efficiency of a corporation in terms of work productivity per employee may be increased by firing certain people, but what we are really concerned with here is the health and efficiency/effectiveness of the economy as a whole, which is most likely done considerable harm by the firing of so many employees, because they are the drivers of the economy, the people who create the demand for goods and services, as well as perhaps doing more of value in the performance of their jobs than the corporate managers give them credit for.

I recall a post a few months ago by Calperson, criticizing higher education for presenting college students with choices of some rather esoteric courses which didn't seem to have much practical application. I know you responded to that post and so did I. My response basically made the point that education is not supposed to be about money or training people to be obedient workers, to which Calperson had no retort. That is my stand, my attitude, and informs my teaching style. Sadly, I think you are correct that higher education has mostly been taken over by the pursuit of money and the notion that higher education is about training students to find ways to accrue more of it. This misguided attitude reflects Calperson's apparent viewpoint and perhaps more and more persons as they observe and participate in a money-oriented educational system that has continually over the past several decades been more and more infiltrated by corporate culture.

When my wife and I went to the Indiana area in 2008, we passed through my father's hometown in Illinois where he lived from approximately age 10 until 18, Danville, Illinois, and it had become much more of a sprawling place with various shopping centers and housing developments, than what my father described from his childhood. Of course, population pressure is another issue which is entangled with everything else, including the contraceptive and abortion issues, and of course, the health of our environment which surely is going through many problems such as global warming, due to the massive increase in humanity's population and its technological modernization. In terms of employment, the more people there are, the more jobs we need, although you make a good point that some places have too many employees to be efficient. I have never had any corporate experience as an employee, but I have certainly observed employees with too much idle time. Much of that is difficult to predict, however. If a place chronically has underworked employees, there should be some mechanism for allowing them to find more productive employment without having to be fired and do an extensive job search, it seems to me.

My experience with my California State government employed family members (which is practically my entire family), is that the state chronically has TOO FEW employees and they are given consequently too much work to do and have to cover large swaths of this large state in terms of their oversight; yet, conservatives love to bash government employees as spoiled, overpaid and the recipients of too many benefits, and as I am sure you are aware, are busy further reducing their numbers (which of course adds to the unemployment rate) as part of their efforts to "reduce the size of government" and government costs, when in fact, there is too little money to hire state employees not because they are overpaid, but rather, tax rates are way too low, especially corporate taxes and taxes on the wealthy. At the school where I teach, we are also suffering for the same reasons, so that many classes have been cut, reducing our pay, while class sizes for those which have not been cut, have been made as large as possible.

Zenzoe 8 years 2 weeks ago

You should warn me, when you're about to post something. Now it's getting late, and I'm not long for this upright, awake state.

Quote Natural Lefty:

Of course, population pressure is another issue which is entangled with everything else, including the contraceptive and abortion issues, and of course, the health of our environment which surely is going through many problems such as global warming, due to the massive increase in humanity's population and its technological modernization.

Regardless, humankind marches forward, carrying a bird cage with a dead canary on its floor.

On that happy note, nightie-nite.

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 8 years 2 weeks ago

Yeah, and the dead canary is the massive extinction event we humans are causing, obviously reducing the diversity, redundancy and inefficiencies of the world ecosystem, all 3 things covered in this post. The reason I mentioned the population issue and the health of our environment is precisely its relevance to the future of our economy and what form of economy will work best long-term.

I think the model that we have been living under is more like a model of a person wandering out in the forest, finding a bunch of fruit, picking them all, hoarding and selling them (i.e., exploiting the environment's riches), as opposed to my proposed approach which is more like people living with the environment, nurturing and sharing the fruit as a team, and having division of labor according to people's interests and aptitudes. I am not sure that is a very good analogy, but that is something I came up with recently.

I think I should warn you when I am about to post something. I didn't think that was necessary, but maybe it is with so many new posts appearing daily.

Zenzoe 8 years 2 weeks ago

I don't know, NL. I've always thought of nature's ecology as a highly efficient system; only when we humans add our greed, selfishness, and dominant proclivities to the mix do the inefficiencies take over to mess things up. Nature, left to itself, has a purpose for everything, and, if we give her half a chance, by keeping our "intelligent" hands off, she manages to create a perfect, diverse and bountiful, efficient world.

Right now I'm thinking of the interconnectedness and symbiotic relationship between plants and insects, as an efficiency. For example, there's this little insect called the American Hover Fy whose larvae dine on aphids, another insect that will kill a plant unless prevented from doing so somehow. An organic garden will find lots of these little bugs doing their thing, hovering around rose bushes, etc., balancing nature's business. But we're so damn smart we come up with poisons to accomplish the same thing, there, and in so many other contexts all over the globe, so that now we have a dying planet on our hands.

Do the powers-that-be wake up to the damage done by technology? Nope. They, wedded to the profit motive, plod ahead, working madly to invent yet another diabolical, man-made solution to "problems" nature fixed ages ago.

Monsanto came up with an egregiously inefficient idea, in the guise of efficiency—GMO's, to "solve world hunger." Along the way, people lost their right to save seeds, thanks to Monsanto-mandated legislation designed to remove competition from their own GMO seeds. The tradition of saving seeds allowed for a symbiotic relationship between farmers and nature, which promoted diversity and abundance, while it also provided farmers with the freedom to grow a diversity of crops. That was an efficiency on behalf of life. Monsanto cared nothing for that. Monsanto cared for profit. And that was an inefficiency on behalf of death. We've all heard of the suicides—farmers in India— thanks to Monsanto and globalism. Fortunately, people still have fight in them; to save seeds has become an important example of civil disobedience.

Democracy Now! discussed Apple today. Did you see that? How about that, China and its labor practices. Are those efficient or inefficient?

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 8 years 2 weeks ago

That's why I qualified the title at the start of the blog post with "sort of." The ambiguity lies with the differing perspectives on inefficiency. What business deems to be efficient is often really inefficient in the larger picture. Businesses are short-sighted and greedy. (By the way, I heard a movie about "The Lorax" is being made.) Your Monsanto example shows corporate inefficiency which damages us all, yet the corporation profits. One person's efficiency is another person's inefficiency. I was trying to take advantage of this irony in my title.

I agree that nature is actually very efficient, but in order to be that way, requires complexity, diversity, redundance at times, and the apparent inefficiencies which I described in this blog post. To a corporation, producing 100 televisions for every one used is horribly inefficient, but to nature, the other 99 televisions are materials for building other parts of the ecosystem. In other words, if only 1 out of 100 babies survive (fish, for instance), it is horribly inefficient from the standpoint of the parents -- and not conducive to bonding for that matter -- but the other 99 become meals which support other critters that help make a healthy ecosystem.

Therefore, we should -- instead of replicating the corporate model which Monsanto follows -- attempt to replicate the complexity and interconnectedness of nature in building an economy, which means allowing lots of activities which support each other in a balanced, non-monopolistic way, allows for creativity and failures in the quest for improvement, without letting anything go to waste. I would say that China's labor practices are inefficient in the sense that they waste an awful lot of human potential in the pursuit of profit, and cause a lot of human misery by creating sweatshop conditions for a great many workers. Increases in the misery index lead to inefficient social behaviors such as crime and familial discord. In China's favor, I did hear that the minimum wage there has been increased substantially, twice in the past year or so, so perhaps the autocrates running their country have improved their attitude somewhat.

Zenzoe 8 years 2 weeks ago

NL, it occurred to me that biomimicry might be what you’re after? Or, maybe I’ve missed the point again. Anyway, even though you don’t mention it specifically, it seems like biomimicry might be relevant here.

I'll be back. I just wanted to mention that.

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 8 years 2 weeks ago

"Biomimicry or biomimetics is the examination of nature, its models, systems, processes, and elements to emulate or take inspiration from in order to solve human problems."

The Wikipedia entry goes on to mention that many of our best technologies have been created by studying and imitating nature, beginning with airplanes, and continuing to some very sophisticated technologies being developed at this time.

This is exactly what I mean, Zenzoe, only applied on a system-wide basis to economics. Thanks for the reference and a term which I had never heard of before that captures my approach. When I first read it, I thought biomimicry meant when the gopher snake evolves to look just like a rattle snake so it can scare your neighbors, or something like that. (We had an incident like that with our Pakistani neighbors a few months ago who had never seen a gopher snake before, but had heard of rattlesnakes.) But this is the sort of application I mean, although different from the examples given. I also mean making an economy that is shared by all Kumbayah style rather than the Yertle the Turtle approach we have ("Everything I see belongs to me, I tell you), far-sighted rather than short sighted, as mother nature is, well-regulated as nature does, big picture and unselfish as ecosystems are rather than myopically selfish as capitalism is, etc. I may have made such an analysis at some point in the past, but I have probably thought of new ideas since then.

Zenzoe 8 years 2 weeks ago

I see.

It does seem that our current, libertarian version of capitalism —laissez faire— fails as a system —for We the People— simply because it does not mimic the sound and sensible rules of a healthy ecology. The conservative dream of a corporate world free of regulation mimics cancer more than a living system. It mimics what happens when invasive plants, such as the kudzu vine, take over a given ecosystem and choke out everything other than itself. Regulations simply act in the same way that ladybugs do to keep aphids in check; or cats do to keep the mice and rats in check.

If only the powers-that-be would get wise to it.

We need an ideology of balance, which I think maybe that's what the eco and biomimicry movement is all about. I'd like to learn more about it.

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 8 years 2 weeks ago
Quote Zenzoe:

I see.

It does seem that our current, libertarian version of capitalism —laissez faire— fails as a system —for We the People— simply because it does not mimic the sound and sensible rules of a healthy ecology. The conservative dream of a corporate world free of regulation mimics cancer more than a living system. It mimics what happens when invasive plants, such as the kudzu vine, take over a given ecosystem and choke out everything other than itself. Regulations simply act in the same way that ladybugs do to keep aphids in check; or cats do to keep the mice and rats in check.

If only the powers-that-be would get wise to it.

We need an ideology of balance, which I think maybe that's what the eco and biomimicry movement is all about. I'd like to learn more about it.

Yes, that is exactly it, Zenzoe. i would add that current economic relationships under financial capitalism are often very complex, but they do not mimic the sound and sensible rules of a healthy ecosystem, although the more successful economic systems have some of the mutually beneficial properties of an ecosystem. I would also add that humans should work something out that benefits all the people maximally, which means that the aim is not to have people who act as parasites or cancinogenic agents as we have in the current system, nor will we have people assigned to be lowly worms, pond scum, etc. which is pretty much how the poor are treated currently. Each person should have a healthy, fulfilling, equitably rewarded role, set of roles, or niche in the economy. In order to be equitable, the system needs to be balanced, and shared.

Zenzoe 8 years 2 weeks ago

I saw part of another panel discussion on UCTV today, all about nanotechnology. One aspect of that has to do with biomimicry, so I thought of you. One of the scientists, a woman, said they're doing research into the uses of biomimicry for solar energy (which may be an aspect of that already), although I can't explain it any further than that. Also, cancer research, having to do with diagnostic tools.

I found this interesting list on the 15 Coolest Cases of Biomimicry:

I thought you'd like number 8:

"8. Artificial Photosynthesis

We all learn about photosynthesis in school, the way that green plants use chlorophyll to convert sunlight, water and carbon dioxide into carbohydrates and oxygen. The quest to reproduce the process technologically is called Artificial Photosynthesis, and is envisioned as a means of using sunlight to split water into hydrogen and oxygen for use as a clean fuel for vehicles as well as a way to use excess carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The process could make hydrogen fuel cells an efficient, self-recharging and less expensive way to create and store energy applicable in home and industrial systems."

Nine is cool too:

9. Bionic Car

"In another biomimetic development on the automotive front, DaimlerChrysler has developed a new concept car from Mercedes-Benz based on the shape of an odd tropical fish - the Bionic Car. Using the shape of the tropical boxfish, designers achieved an aerodynamic ideal that boasts 20% less fuel consumption and as much as an 80% reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions. The diesel-powered compact will get about 70 miles per gallon, and can run just fine on biodiesel fuel. It's been a few years since development, so we can hope this car will be available soon!"

But my favorite is this one:

15. Butterfly-Inspired Displays

"By mimicking the way light reflects from the scales on a butterfly's wings, the Qualcomm company has developed Mirasol Displays that make use of the reflected light principle with an understanding of how human beings perceive that light. Using an interferometric modulator [IMOD] element in a two-plate conductive system, the display uses near-zero power whenever the displayed image is static while at the same time offering a refresh rate fast enough for video. Perfect for 'smart' hand-held devices, already deployed in many, and a battery-saver extraordinaire!"

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 8 years 2 weeks ago

When you said the woman was talking about biomimicry using solar energy, the artificial photosynthesis idea immediately came to my mind. Many of our simplest lifeforms convert sunlight into energy, so it seems reasonable that we could construct a more efficient and environmentally friendly way to generate massive amounts of solar energy by mimicking little algae-type plants. I think it's a great endeavor. The other ideas mentioned are excellent too. Thanks for pointing them out. I have long felt that we should be driving around in solar powered cars that we could use our own home solar panels to run, and thus, have no need to buy fuel.

I recall that I wrote a blog post several years ago which compared different kinds of work to different creatures in an ecosystem. Without digging that out in the limited time I have, I think I can summarize the conclusions that I made about the poor health of our financial ecosystem. Although I like the cancer analogy, I perhaps even more appropriately likened the 1%ers such as bankers and top industrialists, to parasites who imbed themselves in the innards of society and exact a toll of money (analogous to sucking nutrients out of the system) from every transaction. In this analogy, government is the system, the larger organism, and thus, when it processes nutrients, i.e. tax money, it is used for productive purposes which enhance the health of the entire system/society/organism, as opposed to the 1%er parasites, whose actions make the system/society/organism ill, miserable and impoverished, and ultimately threaten its life. What we have is a system which is ruled by parasites, which is a very sick thing. I would also point out that like parasites, and unlike cancer, the banks and big bizz which are pretty much running the show, do provide certain services or help provide goods, much as actual parasites may be helpful in some ways, even symbiotic to a degree, by fine tuning our immune systems, etc. but parasites should always be in a subordinate, regulated role to the larger organism, not the dominant role.

Speaking of sick, I am having a very worried and not happy Valentine's Day. The first day of spring semester was yesterday, and I came home yesterday evening to find out that my father is in the hospital, perhaps terminally ill, after being found yesterday morning at 7 a.m. lying on his back in the bathroom, unable to speak. We still don't know what is wrong with him though -- they said it didn't appear to be a stroke -- and thus I don't know his potential for recovery. He has always been a good healer, as am I, but he seems old and feeble now. His doctor had just doubled his dosage of Atavan, which is an antianxiety drug, and the first time he was given an antianxiety drug, he became worse and was suicidal. According to my mother, he was restless that night. She heard sounds at 2 a.m. and found him up when he should have been sleeping. But by 7 a.m., he was lying on the floor, not speaking. My wife just informed me that my Okinawan neighbor, Mabel (the matriarch of my neighbor's family), is terminally ill, but she is 94 years old.

Zenzoe 8 years 2 weeks ago

Oh, I'm so sorry to hear about your father. He's relatively young, isn't he? Well, I know you've had concerns about him before this, but now it's quite apparent something is amiss. You know me, I don't like drugs, especially antianxiety drugs. They're notorious for causing all sorts of medical disasters, at least so I've read...and so I've noticed from the ads for them. I don't know how people can reasonably decide to take drugs with so many dire warnings associated with them. "Oh, yeah, this'll help you sleep, but watch out for nausea, dry mouth, constipation, heart failure, stroke..."

I still don't know what happened to my neighbor. It was weird, because not only did an ambulance come to take him away, but also the fire department and the police arrived too. He hasn't been back yet, and a couple of relatives arrived this week to hang out for a couple of days. I probably seem like a snoopy lady, and that worry is probably what's keeping me from going over there to express my concerns. I'm thinking I might just send a card.

I hope your father recovers and comes home soon. That's so scary.

This morning, asleep, I gave myself a nice valentine dream—a butterfly dream. After flying here and there and everywhere, this lovely butterfly finally landed on the back of my head. I could feel it there, and wondered if it would climb onto my finger. I reached back, and it climbed on. Unfortunately, I was bringing my hand with butterfly over my head and toward my face, so I could look at it, when the damn phone rang and startled me awake.

Natural Lefty's picture
Natural Lefty 8 years 2 weeks ago

I tried calling my mother a while ago but there was no answer. I think she may be at the hospital visiting my father. I still don't know much about his condition, but I think he was on life support yesterday. My father is young if you consider 84 years old to be young, which I am sure most people think it quite old, but he only retired 6 years ago from his full-time job and has been relatively healthy until the last couple of years. My mother said that even his doctors said his main problem was mental, but I think it has become physical, too. She kept telling me on the phone about how sad she was, how she "missed" him, and how miserable my father looked.

Mabel has been a good friend of ours, especially my wife, but of course, we knew she was old -- over 90 years old -- although she was pretty active until a few months ago, a typical healthy Okinawan. Her husband, Shin is still working in the yard regularly.

The police, fire deparment and ambulance simultaneously sounds very serious. It wasn't on the news? I would be curious about what had happened, too. I think you should consider offering your support.

Yes, this little pill can cure your restless legs or whatever, as long as yoiu ignore the plethora of nasty side effects. I am becoming more skeptical of the medical profession, too. Anti-anxiety pills and antidepressants for conditions that psychotherapy should treat are among the worst offenders. My opthalmologist wants to do a preventive surgery on my eyes to increase the drainage of fluid (a glaucoma treatment) even though there is nothing wrong with my vision. I was going to ask my father -- who I believe had worse glaucoma than I ever had and never had such surgery or any vision loss -- his opinion but now I don't know whether I will have the chance to. Anyway, telling him about my doctor's plans probably would only increase his anxiety, since he was diagnosed with OCD with the tendency to worry about the health of others. I am pretty sure he would be against the surgery too, as everybody I mention it to seems to be. Our insurance has a $7,500 deductible which means that the surgery would almost certainly cost us several thousand dollars even though our insurance "covers it." I did an internet check, and there are many natural substances which help alleviate glaucoma, including vitamin C, fish oil, Bilberry, Fennel and a bunch of other stuff. I have started taking fish oil pills, plus extra vitamin C since discovering that.

I am doubtful about my father's recovery, but it might be possible. I am shooting my 3-pointers into my laundry basket for him, and of course, Eunice and Isabella are praying for him heavy duty, not that their prayers for him over the past few years have seemed to help, but maybe somebody is listening.

I slept surprisingly well last night considering how worried I am. I think intuitively I know it is out of my hands, my father is old, and we all have to go through this at some point, so I might as well sleep peacefully and go on with my life until I am needed for other duties. You know, my father recently asked me to be his trustee even though I am the youngest child and my mom is not senile although my father thinks otherwise.

I have been having several vivid dreams about kittens recently. In one, the kittens we had returned to us, and in another, there was a batch of 7 kittens, including one with patches of bright blue fur that was unique and extremely special.

I thought I had some good comments about economics on my previous post in this thread, but the news about my father certainly overshadowed that.

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