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"For anyone curious about Fluxx in Spanish I used the game in a small Spanish II class last week and it went over very well. The previous week I spent one class period playing Fluxx in English so they could get used to the rules and then brought it out in the target language the following week. They had very few rules questions and maintained steady conversation in Spanish the entire time. I'll probably be placing another order in the next few weeks for 2-3 more sets of the game to run multiple games in one of my larger classes. I highly recommend sticking to 4-6 people tops if running this game in the classroom - especially since the Spanish version has fewer cards than the English." -- Ryan, on the Edu mailing list


Thursday, February 1st, 2007
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What's Going On? Recycling Continued

Last week I posted a controversial article, called Questioning Paper Recycling. Needless to say, it's been a topic of discussion all week, but that was actually something I was hoping for... last week we also launched a new mailing list, the Eco list, and we wanted to get some interesting conversations started. And it's been working -- we've been having some fascinating discussions over there!

So the question everyone's wondering now is, am I going to give up on paper recycling, or have my eco-friends persuaded me that Penn & Teller are themselves full of crap? In short, the answers are no and mostly.

I pride myself on being able to change my mind, on accepting truths and altering my position as needed when confronted by reality. What this means in practice is that *everything* is open to debate. To Question Everything means that all theories and beliefs must be challenged at some point.

One trick I recommend for keeping your mind flexible is to actually try changing your opinion about something for awhile, to see how that change holds up. It's like playing Devil's Advocate, or role-playing someone else's point of view. Get into the other person's brain and see what it's like in there for awhile before you decide that they're wrong.

But the best reason for embracing a radical point of view the way I did was to get my peeps to help me figure out how to react to it. The reason I clicked on the Penn & Teller video in the first place was because I had friends asking me what I thought about the show's anti-recycling arguments, and for me to maintain a belief system, I need to know how to reply when I'm challenged by those who don't subscribe to my beliefs. So, by turning to some of my other friends and saying, "I think these guys have some good points, what do you think?" I get a whole bunch of brains working on the question at once. (In other words, I got my friends to do my homework for me. (Thanks, friends!))

I think the single best go-to point for rebuttals I've seen so far is "Anti-Recycling Myths Commentary on 'Recycling is Garbage'." It addresses a lot of P&T's claims, about all types of recycling, but as I said before, it's paper recycling that I've mainly been questioning. And some of the things I've been hearing do support my doubts. For example, there's this quote from Martin Blick of Champion Paper: "We are not talking about the rain forest or old growth in the Pacific Northwest. Most of the trees cut for paper come from fifth or sixth generation pulp-wood forests." But even if that's true for Champion Paper, I'm hearing that other companies aren't so scrupulous and that some of our paper does come from rainforest wood. That really sucks... our planet is going to totally regret it when all the rainforests are gone, which makes this a clincher for me.

Does this mean I'm totally retracting last week's article? No. I am going to keep recycling, but my faith in it has still been shaken. I try hard to see most issues in shades of gray, but I've always been pretty black-and-white in my thinking about recycling. Now I've become a skeptic even about that.

But in truth, I find it incredibly difficult to throw *anything* away if I think it has some sort of value, so while I may continue to question issues surrounding recycling, in my heart of hearts there's no way for me really to give up on the concept. I'm too much of my mother's son, who taught her kids so well the lessons she learned as a child of the Great Depression, about the value of everything: "Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without," she would say, 38 times a day, and now I do that too. I believe it's good to use everything to its fullest, rather than throwing away that which still has some value, and that's the essence of recycling. It's like trying to use every part of the buffalo.

All that said, when it comes right down to it, I tend to think of recycling as a rearranging of the deck-chairs on the Titanic sort of thing: what humans are doing to this planet is so vastly destructive that recycling isn't really going to matter all that much. But everybody's got a gree-gree, so hey, let's keep on recycling. Maybe it will help a little...

I also have to say, this whole debate has left me feeling disappointed with Penn & Teller. They cherry-picked and used other statistical charlatanism in order to make the data seem to fit their arguments (for example, they compared the number of trees we have now to the tree-count of 1920, the lowest point in our history, rather than, say, 1491). And yes I know, these guys are magicians putting on a show, but given that the entire premise of this particular show is supposed to be about demanding the real truth, they shouldn't be fudging the data.

It happens that we actually know Penn slightly, having met him in the late Eighties when P&T visited our lab at NASA (they loved touring high-tech places like the facility Kristin & I worked in back then) and we actually hung out a few times while they were in the area for an extended gig in 1989. (We even got to see the Letterman show live with their VIP passes when they were guests, and my sister freaked out when she happened to see Kristin & me on TV, when we appeared, ever so briefly, in a shot of the audience.)

Anyway, even though magicians are dishonest for a living, I've always thought P&T were straight-up guys at their core, being outspoken skeptics and the kind of magicians who admit it's all a trick and sometimes even show you how it's done. It was their credibility with me that caused me watch this BS with an open mind, and that credibility has suffered some as a result.

But as I said before, P&T are still totally right about the Drug War. Please join me in Praying for Drug Peace.

And speaking of both paper-manufacturing and the laws against marijuana (which include the non-psychoactive hemp plant), I really need to say a bit more about the numerous suppressed uses of industrial hemp. As I observed long ago, an acre of land planted with hemp can turn out paper-quality pulp 4 times faster than an acre of trees. Hemp is so much better suited for making paper, as it turns out, that the entire War on Marijuana may have gotten started because of it.

It's not widely understood (some even attempt to dismiss this as a conspiracy theory) but back in the 1930s there was a business tycoon named William Randolph Hearst. (He was the inspiration for Citizen Kane.) He owned the whole system: not just newspapers and magazines, but paper-making equipment to supply his printing-presses, and millions of acres of prime timberland with which to keep the paper-mills going. He had it all figured out.

And then a machine was invented (called a hemp decorticator) which simplified the process of making paper from hemp. Sensing a threat to his monopoly, Hearst used his power as a publisher to promote a hoax about the evils of marijuana with a relentless series of sensational and wildly inaccurate headlines about "Reefer Madness." This culminated in a movie (in 1936) and the first laws against marihuana (in 1937), which in turn wiped out the new hemp industry just as it was getting started. Thus it was insured that we'd be making toilet paper out of trees for generations yet to come. It's just another example of how the Drug War Hurts America.

AndyThanks for reading, and Have a Great Week!

Thought Residue
"I agree [that it takes a lot of courage for Andy, a self-proclaimed hippy, to even consider denouncing recycling]. I've had many wonderful conversations with Andy, and even when we don't agree he's very willing to listen to my side, and actually consider changing his mind. (Many people have trouble doing this.) I only hope that I can be so strong in my critical thinking skills as he is." -- John Cooper, on the Eco mailing list this week (wow, coming from you John, that is high praise indeed!)

In any discussion of recycling we should always remember that it's best of all to reduce and reuse. With that in mind, here are 3 tips from our daily life which I highly recommend:

  1. Bring your own reusable cloth shopping bags to the market so you can say "Neither" when they ask "Paper or plastic?"
  2. Say "I don't need a bag, thanks" when you forgot to bring your own bags and you're only getting a couple of items which you can easily carry home without a bag (it drives me nuts when clerks automatically shove a solitary purchase into a plastic bag)
  3. Bring your own reusable food storage containers with you when dining out, so you can take home a doggie bag without getting (and just throwing away) those big styrofoam clamshell things
"Ultimately, all our efforts at recycling are tiny in comparison to the one on-going juggernaut event that is the growth of human civilization. When I was in high-school, I read something about recycling and environmental policies that stated with some statistical authority that the one biggest impact any person could have in protecting the environment was to not reproduce. Talk about a gree-gree. You can rail against urban sprawl and pray for sustainability all you want, but people just keep having children, and every single one of them wants to grow up, have a house, stay warm, eat food, drive a car, have their own children, etc., and it's pretty tough to tell folks that that might be bad." -- Dan Brashler, on the Eco mailing list

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