Monthly Archives: March 2007

Day 49 thru 53: My Life w Car

First off: Days without carbon based transportation: 4 out of 5. That’s smashing!


But today, I want to talk about dysfunctional organizations…again. I’ve just come off a project that had as its director one of the most dysfunctional managers I’ve ever met. At first, I thought well, he’s just blustery. Just a wise guy. But then, you start noticing how people around him are leaving, putting in for transfers, how things get mixed up and there’s always someone to blame…and it’s never him.

I found myself devolving and by the end of the project, I was angry most of the time, defensive and offensive. Even now, if someone brings him up, I’m back in the swirl of my anger, and I really don’t have to work with or see him anymore.

And so I wonder: how does someone like that keep getting hired into companies? What makes him an attractive option–surely there are others to hire out there. It’s a big world.

And then I think back to this article in Change This that I read recently. If you haven’t read it, take a look–it’s worth reading. The site is worth paying attention to on a regular basis, but this latest article really got me: “The Upside of Assholes: Is There Virtue in Bad Workplace Behavior?”

Sutton’s basic belief is that there is no place for assholes in organizations–that it ultimately costs more, wears moving parts out, makes life miserable for too many people. But several of his colleagues have argued that there are famous and very effective organizational assholes to keep in mind…for example Steve Jobs who is referenced again and again as, well, an asshole. And he’s very successful–so doesn’t that mean assholes are good to have around?

I would argue that for every Steve Jobs out there (and by my count, there is only one) there are about 5 billion manager assholes. So, no, I would say that maybe, if anything, Jobs is the exception that proves the rule but no, being an asshole is not legitimized by Steve Jobs, for god’s sake. By the end of Bob Sutton’s article, he hints at the same the conclusion though he does nod towards assholes having a tremendous impact on getting things done.

Now, I’m going to say something that would irritate a lot of business people, but I believe it anyway: I think it’s morally wrong to treat people disrespectfully, abusively, erratically, and/or manipulatively. Not that I haven’t done it, I have and so have we all–but most of us avoid it as much as possible. Most of us avoid the use of outright shame to motivate teams–if only because in the end it doesn’t work and will create a divisive environment. Most of us avoid being abusive–if only because it could lead to disasterous results and legal action.

Oh well, assholes abound. I’ve carried his very bad energy around with me for a couple of weeks. I think it’s time to lay it down. So here’s a nice picture instead of something completely different:


I have to figure out how to upload some underwater photos from my recent snorkeling trip to Baja, but I haven’t yet. soon.

5 day stats:
car: 2.5 miles
bike: 8.5 miles
flexcar/bus: 0

Addendum: WildAid is now Wildlife Alliance

I was notified last month that WildAid had made an organizational and name change at the start of the year, but neglected to use the new name in my note yesterday–and Wildlife Alliance Dev Mgr Michael Zwirn contacted me to clarify. Here is the new name: Wildlife Alliance. Check out their website here.

You can check out their great work and a review of their organization at Charity Navigator online. Give often and generously. And if you work with less-than-favorite companies like I do, consider it money laundering–or your very own corporate green initiative.

Thanks Michael and team for all the good work you do!

day 45 thru 48: My Life w Car


I’ve lost track of the days since returning to the states, partly because of a rush of tasks to tend to and partly because I returned here sick–once again–from the water or the food or the pollution in El Salvador. Whatever good I might say about El Salvador is usually outweighed by the risks there–and not just criminal. Out of the last 7 visits there, I’ve been sick 4 times, and one of those was deathly sick. I believe this is my last trip in a while and I’m quite alright with that.

But what a week! Every time I turn on the news, read the paper or listen to the radio, it seems like someone or some country is putting a stake in the ground regarding global climate change. Canada’s PM Harper decides to make the country a world leader in energy conservation and green initiatives, Al Gore testifies (testily, at times) in Washington on climate change, and more US companies are embracing better/greener business practices than ever before.


It helps to see a little light now and again. And for myself–what have I done this week? Well, I’ve driven more than usual though I’m still hoping to not drive two business days–today and tomorrow– this week and am target to do just that. It’s been cold and rainy–colder than usual this time of year–and I haven’t felt very strong.

Loved Dave Pollard’s article this week about getting fit, getting strong, taking care of oneself–we’ve got work to do! Speaking of work, I’m beginning a new contract with a company I basically loathe and which shall remain unnamed; my partner would prefer that I not work for them but I will, and here’s why: I always view contracts like this as Money Laundering. I take their money and I donate it to causes that are worth supporting–thus the dirty money becomes cleansed by its purpose in the world. Besides, this company isn’t as terrible as I make it out to be–it’s not making weapons or profiting off of wars. It’s just a big consumer-oriented company and I don’t care for it. Glad to take their money and give it to groups like Wild Aid….

By the way, WildAid is an amazing organization. Strongly recommend checking it out–they have one goal and only one goal in life: abolish the slaughter of wild and endangered animals for decorative, magical or aphrodisiac purposes. They have an amazing rating from the Charity Navigator for being nearly all focused on field work, with little overhead.

Daily/weekly stats:
Car: approx 31 miles/8-10 tasks
Bike: 0
Flexcar: 0
Bus: 0

Days without carbon based transportation: 2

Day 43 & 44: My Life w Car


Holy shit, I was sitting in a car with a friend in San Salvador traffic yesterday–she was smoking, holding the cigarette out the window to not bother me–and suddenly we’re behind a bus that accelerates and good god, you should have seen the black cloud of smoke that encircled us. It was thick, like it was palpable with particulates, and with our windows open, the cloud filled the car and stayed there.

I literally felt trashed, like breathing would hurt me but I’m an oxygen dependent organism, so what am I going to do.

The swallows around here are preparing to travel up North–they’re swirling and chattering in large obvious groups. I imagine what it’s like flying here, as a small bird, and yeah, I’d be pretty excited about leaving too. Even though I like San Salvador, and love my pals here, I won’t miss the thick billowing clouds of pollution that happen all over the city. Also, I won’t miss the poverty and over-crowding, the wild population growth.

So…what am I doing down here?
I’m training the team here on Active Listening and the Art of Questioning. Specifically, how managers and direct reports go “dead” during evaluations because the manager practices the “opn-the-head-and-pour-the-info-in.” This approach works with kids up to about 8th grade, optimistically; after that, if the individual isn’t engaged on a problem solving, thoughtful level, they aren’t engaged at all. They’re merely nodding and saying, at specific points, what they believe they should be saying.

There’s a lot of that going on here with supervisors and managers. I observed a review yesterday where the agent stopped looking at the supervisor 2 minutes into the conversation, slumped in his seat and stared at the floor. The supervisor pushed on, never veering from her review form, never checking in with the agent. She even lowered her head to try and catch his eye…yet, she never veered from her performance review form. the conversation lasted 12 minutes, and 10 minutes of that time the conversation was functionally dead.

The good news, when I asked her what she thought was going on with this kid, she said she suspected he was ashamed because the review wasn’t good but his usual work is above reproach. I asked why she pushed on, knowing there was a problem–she had no answer. So, my work is trying to make this exchange alive, relational, meaningful.

Active listening means you take in the whole picture–the posture, the eyes, the words, and perhaps most important, your own feelings about how things are going. Our ability to put our own perception in the present moment aside in favor of the obligation of the task at hand is amazing to me…and a little frightening.

Daily stats:
Car: probably about 12 miles of gagging, pollution soaked travel through town
bike, bus, flexcar: zip
Walking: probably 1.5 miles

Day 42: My Life w Car


Some El Sal stats to consider: 19% of the population of El Salvador has a yearly income of less than a dollar a day; 48% is under the poverty line. The cost of gas here runs around $2.40. A quart of milk is about a buck.

A friend of mine here in San Salvador yesterday was talking a lot about the inequality of income and economies in the world, as it related to immigration legislation in the states. It’s a big issue, no denying that, and personally, I feel as confused about it as can be. But as the conversation went along, I found myself more and more energized about another topic: Overpopulation.

So, I said, “let’s bump this up a few notches, to about 35 thousand feet, and look at the really big picture.” What is the world going to look like when there are 9 billion people in it? This is what it looks like when there are 6 billion–and no one I know feels like things are working very well–dwindling resources, inability to offer a quality life to the majority of earths human population. So, what is it going to look like when there are 9 billion.

His answer was totally predictable, and for a smart guy, I was sort of disappointed. He said, “it’s been proven that in industrialized nations, the birth rate drops as the families become more educated and healthy.” That’s the same Bill Gates crap I’ve heard so many times. In fact, if that were so, the US would not have surpassed 3 billion a few months ago, right? I mean, we’ve got to be among the most industrialized modern nations in the world, I’m thinking, so how come we’re still growing at a phenomenal rate?

Everyone points to Germany when they toss this industrialized nation/zero population pithy response out. Germany has zero pop growth and has for awhile now. Well, one nation out of the whole world–and a sort of unusual and smallish nation at that–is not good evidence of the whole industrialized nation theory.

The conversation with my El Salvador friend continued and I said, Look, you know what I’d like to see in the world? I’d like to see a world where we are equal to all other forms of life on the planet. Not more important, more special, more this or more that, but equal. No other organism on this planet is free to reproduce endlessly without dire consequences. Since we are, next to bacteria, the most populous species on the planet, our dire consequences will be dire for the whole dang neighborhood.

And still, all we seem able to focus on is ourselves–our poverty, our diseases, our human suffering. As if everything else were a mere backdrop to our own experience.

Finally, the crap about global warming not being caused by human activity–hello? If you really read the studies, you see that carbon pollution has been around since the middle ages…and it’s totally related to the rise of cities and city-states.

And it’s all about Coal. We should be rising up demanding the end of Coal as a fuel, period. Coal is evil. And it’s 40% of our “contribution” to climate change. AND, AND, AND!! Coal was viewed as so evil in the 13th century that King Edward banned it. A man ahead of his times.


Daily stats:
car: approx 7 miles (taxi)
bike, bus, flexcar: 0

Day 40 & 41: My Life w Car

Sitting in the backseat of the taxi from the Comalapa airport in El Salvador, up ahead I see what appears to be a great cloud of smoke over the city of San Salvador. I ask Cesar, the driver, if there’s a fire and he answers, “no, it’s the buses in the morning. All the buses hit the roads downtown and send a lot of exhaust in the air. It clears out by noon or so.”

That’s a lot of exhaust. Really, it looked like a big fire was burning somewhere.

Continuing to read The Weather Makers by Tim Flannery and continuing to feel overwhelmed by the evidence of global climate change. One of my friends down here is from Costa Rica, I asked him at lunch today about the Golden Toad story and he just said, yeah, that frog is gone. Extinct.


Tim Flannery does such a good job in his book of not just listing the catastrophes but explaining why the catastrophe is important, what that catastrophe means in the entire system. Of course the golden toad was part of a larger system, not just an indicator of a problem. Much like the coral reefs around the world–many, many species depend on the health of coral reef to exist, and many other species depend on those species to exist. And when that entire system falters, or a piece is removed or is missing, the entire system stands the chance of fragmentation.

On another front, I’ve decided to try to nail down just how much car-action I’m actually eliminating from my carbon footprint. This will take a while but just at a high level, looking at the previous week, it looks like I used the car 3 times in the previous week, and my bike just twice. I’d like to see the car come down to about 2 times a week but I don’t know if that’s possible.

Still, 3 times is better than 7 times a week. Mileage was about 26 miles, while biking about 15. I consciously chose to combine as many tasks in a given day as possible if using my car and managed to avoid any single-task trips, averaging about 3.5 tasks per trip.

bianchi bike

Day 38 & 39: My Life w Car


Above: the old library.  Below: the new.


The newest library remake in Seattle opened today, a complete remodel of the previous one–Southwest Library, my favorite. We rode our bikes over for the opening; the place was jammed with families and kids and walkers and riders like ourselves. When I see something like that, a great new library, a fabulous resource for the neighborhood, I feel great about paying taxes. That’s exactly where I want my taxes to go–to help the whole neighborhood share and take care of a great resource that enriches us all.

Daily Stats (2 days):

Car: 5.5/3 tasks

Bike: 3.5 miles (2 tasks)

flexcar: 0

Bus: 0

Day 37: My Life w Car

In Seattle, we have this great program for composting food scraps that’s just working out so well and reducing our overall garbage production. It just started in December, and it’s been part of our ongoing discussion regarding what to do with our food scraps.

As vegetarians, our food scraps are easy and ideal for composting; the biggest issue is we have more food scraps than a small worm bin can really handle. I, particularly, eat a lot of fruit everyday which results in a lot of peels, cores, and other fruit scraps. Then we eat a lot of fresh veggies that create a pile of scraps–cores, peels, etc. We’ve always wanted to compost everything but haven’t been able to, mainly due to the amount.


Well, now we just add it to our yard waste! What could be easier! At first we were skeptical because we figured the neighborhood raccoons would dig into it, but turns out that with all the other green material in the bin–leaves, grass, prunings, etc–the smell of our veggies and fruit scraps gets overwhelmed. So, so far, so good. And it has reduced our garbage by about 30% each week–amazing!

We still do the worm composting, by the way. The vermiculture output is so good for the garden soil, we could never stop that entirely. Anxious to get the garden going this year!


Daily Stats:
Car: 8.5 miles/ 3 tasks
Bike: 0
Flexcar: 0
Bus: 0
a pie: 0

Day 35 & 36: My Life w Car

Getting back into the rhythm of things…Spring has finally begun to make a concerted effort to happen in Seattle. The day was warm and beautiful and the air was full of flowers and pollen. Personally, I can’t hardly stand the pollen–it’s tough to be out in it, but it’s the most welcome thing I can imagine after a long cold, wet winter.


This afternoon I was checking in on Dave Pollard’s blog and read a piece on diet and food and toxins and the whole big bad thang. What to eat is a discussion about the impact of processed foods on our overall health. It seems we’ll eat anything, and I sure did witness that on the cruise. The one that really amazed me was lunchtime.

Lunch, for me, is a smallish meal between a good breakfast and a good dinner. Most of us don’t have a lot of time for lunch anyway, so probably a lot of people are like me in that they don’t eat huge amounts at lunch. Not so the cruising crowd: I saw lines of people with overflowing plates of pork and ribs and chicken and beef, with sides of beans, rice, some scant attention to veggies, and of course, a huge dessert. Not once, mind you, but everyday. And then they turned around and had bacon and sausage for breakfast, and a huge meat dish for dinner.

When I was a kid, people really didn’t eat this much meat. People now days eat meat three times a day–it’s so unneccessary and as noted in the above article, and the comments following, it takes a huge amount of system resources to digest meat properly. When did meat 3 times a day become part of the food pyramid?


Tue Daily stats:
car: 12.5 miles/ 2 tasks
bike: 0
flexcar: 0

Wed Daily stats:
car: 0
flexcar: 0
bus: 0
a pie: 3.5/ 1 task–walk to grocery store

Day 34: My Life w Car

Back from my Big Cruise Adventure–my Mom’s 80th birthday cruise to the Sea of Cortez on the Holland American line.

Review: I truly believe that cruise lines are floating food courts and should be named thus. I have never really experienced that level of passive consumerism and it didn’t sit well with me. That said, the whole thing was really for my mom and I managed to shut my mouth and play nice for the most part.

The good news: when my partner and I were off the ship, we managed to see and experience some pretty nice sites. We were introduced–albeit quickly–to a few great spots in the Sea of Cortez of Baja California. We’ll be back there soon to continue our snorkeling and kayak love affair.

I had to stop reading The Weather Makers while on this trip as it was just too depressing to be part of what seemed the epicenter of our consumption crazed culture (probably wasn’t, just seemed like it).

The very, very good news is that there seems to be a huge environmental movement in Mexico. The guy in the snap above is part of a program to save and reintroduce the native macaw population of Mexico–he talked to tourists about not buying parrots from vendors–even in the US, etc.

In Loreto, we went to a gorgeous preserve area off the coast and snorkeled around. Supposedly, there is no big development allowed in Loreto but you can see they’re going to lose that fight. I saw advertisements for retirement communities and the number of real estate offices was truly surprising. Beautiful town–hope they can hang onto it.

The Sea of Cortez was truly spectacular and I hope it doesn’t become too terribly “consumed” by tourists such as myself. Worse are the number of communities, condos, etc that are sprouting up everywhere.

Being on that ship for 10 days really brought home overpopulation. How come overpopulation isn’t a big topic? We have 6 billion people on this planet–we outstripped our resources in 1987 and have been robbing the piggy bank ever since and still, we keep reproducing. I recall that Bill Gates mentioned, upon receiving the monster grant of billions from Buffet, that he would continue to use it to wipe out disease. Asked why he didn’t tackle overpopulation, he answered that overpopulation takes care of itself when communities are healthy and infant death diminishes. Maybe that’s true, maybe so. But I’m skeptical.

Anyway, very glad to be home.


Ship: I don’t know how many nautical miles or how many tons of food.
Bike: 8.5 miles/1 task
Car: 0
Flexcar: 0
Bus: 0