Real history from a pretend pirate

Meet Richard Nolan: quartermaster of the Whydah, captain of the Anne, former coworker of Blackbeard—in general, pirate. He is also—at least through Labor Day—my friend Butch Roy.

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Too High to Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution - exclusive interview with author Doug Fine

I had a great time interviewing Doug Fine about his latest book: Too High to Fail: Cannabis and the New Green Economic Revolution.

Too high to failToo High to Fail covers everything from a brief history of hemp to an insider’s perspective on a growing season in Mendocino County, where cannabis drives 80 percent of the economy (to the tune of $6 billion annually). Investigative journalist Doug Fine follows one plant from seed to patient in the first American county to fully legalize and regulate cannabis farming. He profiles an issue of critical importance to lawmakers, media pundits, and ordinary Americans -- whether or not they inhale. It’s a wild ride that includes swooping helicopters, college tuitions paid with cash, cannabis-friendly sheriffs, and never-before-gained access to the world of the emerging legitimate, taxpaying “ganjaprenneur.”

While researching the book, what did you learn about cannabis and the use of it that surprised you?

Probably the most surprising revelation to me after a year spent on the front lines of the Drug War is how ready Middle America is for the coming Drug Peace -- especially with regard to legalizing cannabis. One collective I researched, in Orange County, CA (yep, Nixon's stomping grounds) had seniors as the majority of membership. These were people for whom cannabis was not political. It was medicine that worked: for arthritis, glaucoma, appetite stimulation. Americans recently polled at 56% in favor of regulating cannabis like alcohol, up from 49% a year ago. So we could be close to the kind of mainstream tipping point that ended alcohol Prohibition. And that surprised me. The "Brains on Drugs" stigma is disappearing, even in the heartland.

Who stands to profit from keeping cannabis illegal, and who will profit if it is regulated like alcohol?

Well, I first off like to always impart a sort of Humility Preface before prognostication. We don't know exactly what the future may bring, but we do have a lot of history as an example. Prohibition breeds organized crime. That's who profits from the status quo, on the business side. With the regulation of cannabis like alcohol, I heard some of today's farmers worry that we'll get a few Coors type overlords. That may be, but when Jimmy Carter changed the brewing rules, the microbrewery age exploded, and the farmers I cover in Too High to Fail are confident that there will likewise always be room for the top shelf craft farmer, the way that there's always room for Sierra Nevada or New Belgium today. I agree with them: we're talking about a multibillion dollar industry that's already bigger than corn and wheat combined. Imagine the tax revenue! Another beneficiary of the coming Drug Peace era is the American people, in the form of energy independence: a USDA biologist told me that when it comes to cannabis as a biofuel source, “It’s magnitudes more productive than corn- or soy-based ethanol. But it’s not even on our blackboard because it’s a federal crime.” Thus were the farmers I followed practicing a kind of patriotic civil disobedience. One day they'll be teaching university courses to students dubious that their crop was ever really illegal.

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Attack of the zombie maples

Last month, I spent several days in Harvard Forest, 3500 acres of woods dedicated to scientific research. The forest is home to dozens of research projects, some short-term, others stretching over decades.

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Of hermit crabs and home sales

In 2005, my husband I bought a house in Birmingham, Alabama. I was working for mental_floss and we thought we’d live there for a few years.

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Chris Ware interview


[Video Link] An interview with Jimmy Corrigan creator, Chris Ware. (Via Drawn & Quarterly)

Energy is more than sources; energy is systems

When we talk about energy, we often talk about it in very disconnected ways. By that, I mean we talk about new renewable generation projects, we talk about cleaning up dirty old power plants, and we talk about personal decisions you and I can make to use less energy, or get more benefits from the same amount.

What we fail to talk about is how all those ideas fit together into a coherent whole. And that matters, because our energy problems (and our energy solutions) are about more than just swapping sources of power or making individual choices. We have to fix the systems, not just the symptoms.

Back in April, I got to go on Minnesota Public Radio's "Bright Ideas" to talk about my book, Before the Lights Go Out. Now MPR has the entire hour-long interview up on video. You can watch the whole thing if you want. But, if you're short on time, I'd recommend the stretch from about minute 8:30 to 10:50. That's where I explain in more detail why systems—infrastructures—are so important and why we can't solve our energy problems without focusing on how choices and sources fit into those larger issues.

Watch that clip, then read this Minneapolis Star-Tribune article about how investments in transportation-oriented bicycle infrastructure have changed the way Minneapolites think about biking and dramatically increased the number of people who choose to bike. I think you'll see some thematic connections.

Learn more about how our energy infrastructures shape our choices and our lives by reading Before the Lights Go Out.

Video Link

Making Shelter Simple: An Interview with Lloyd Kahn

Lloyd Kahn is the editor-in-chief of Shelter Publications. His latest book is Tiny Homes: Scaling Back in the 21st Century.

Avi Solomon: What do you see in your childhood that pointed you onto the path that your life took?

Lloyd Kahn: When I was a kid I had a little workbench with holes in it, and the holes were square or round or triangular. And you had to pick the right little piece of wood block and hammer it in with a little wooden hammer. And so I'd hammer with it, put the round dowel into the round hole, and hammer it through. And then maybe the most formative thing was when I was twelve - I helped my dad build a house. It had a concrete slab floor, and concrete block walls. And my job was shoveling sand and gravel and cement into the concrete mixer for quite a while. We'd go up there and work on weekends. One day we got the walls all finished, and we were putting a roof on the carport, and I got to go up on the roof. They gave me a canvas carpenter's belt, a hammer and nails, and I got to nail down the 1" sheeting. And I still remember that, kneeling on the roof nailing, the smell of wood on a sunny day. And then I worked as a carpenter when I was in college, on the docks. I just always loved doing stuff with my hands.

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Bones of Turkana: Meave and Richard Leakey on human ancestors and the Leakey legacy

The Leakey family is like the Kennedys, but for paleoanthropology instead of politics. Think about any hominin fossil or artifact you can name.

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Such a Long Journey - An Interview with Kevin Kelly

Photo: Michelle Gray

Kevin Kelly is a senior maverick for Wired magazine. Avi interviewed Kevin at his home in Pacifica.

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The Botany of Bible Lands: An Interview with Prof. Avinoam Danin

Avinoam Danin is Professor Emeritus of Botany in the Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Behavior at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He curates Flora of Israel Online. His latest book is Botany of the Shroud: The Story of Floral Images on the Shroud of Turin.

Avi Solomon: What first sparked your lifelong fascination with botany?

Avinoam Danin: My parents told me that when I was 3 years old I always said "Look father, I found a flower". My grandparents gave me the book "Analytical Flora of Palestine" on my 13 birthday - I checked off every plant I determined in the book's index of plant names.

Avi: How did you get to know the flora of Israel so intimately?

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Robert Sapolsky on Stress: An Interview


Prof. Robert Sapolsky on Coping with Stress (Audio link) Photo Courtesy of Indiana University

Robert Sapolsky is a Professor of Biological Sciences and Neurology at Stanford University. He is the author of A Primate's Memoir: A Neuroscientist's Unconventional Life Among the Baboons.

Avi Solomon:

What event or person influenced your decision to study Primatology?

Robert Sapolsky:

Reading The Year of the Gorilla, by George Schaller, when I was in middle school. Schaller was the first person to do field work with gorillas (long before Dian Fossey). I had a vague sense of wanting to do primatology before that (sufficiently so to be reading the book), but that book cemented it.

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Interview with a Stoic: William O. Stephens

William O. Stephens is Professor of Philosophy and of Classical & Near Eastern Studies at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska. He plays tennis and chess, is a vegetarian, and tries to be Stoic about being a big Chicago Cubs fan.

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Tools To Not Die With: An Interview with Vinay Gupta, creator of the Hexayurt

Photo: Jay Springett

Vinay Gupta is a man between worlds, and he’s got a lot of arms. Born to Scottish and Indian parents, he was programming from a young age. But looking back on the advent of web-culture in the late 90s, he found that he wasn’t satisfied with the thought of sitting around on .com cash and helping to empower the same old corrupt systems of power and influence just because they’d now found homes online.

No, no. Vinay packed up and went west to the American desert. There he did work with the Rocky Mountain Institute (he was on the editorial team for Small is Profitable and Winning the Oil Endgame by Amory Lovins et.al.), spent years meditating and learning Nepalese magical practices, and found himself on the playa trying to live out of a cardboard box. That struggle with the box lead him to make observations about a sort of pixelated version of the yurt, that ancient and highly efficient house of the high Mongolian desert. Thereby: the hexayurt.

Now it’s been ten years of struggle for Vinay, and he’s shown his invention (and the many conclusions that follow from it) to .biz high-rollers, .mil doves, and .org worldchangers. He has become a worldchanger. We caught up by email in October.

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An interview with David Eagleman, neuroscientist


Photo: Poptech

David Eagleman is a neuroscientist and author.

Avi Solomon

What fascinates you about the nature of time?

David Eagleman

We all go through life assuming that time is an external river that flows past us. But experiments in my laboratory over the past decade have shown that this is not precisely the case. Time is an active construction of the brain. We can set up simple experiments to make you believe that a flashed image lasted longer or shorter than it actually did, or that a burst of light happened before you pressed a button (even though you actually caused it with the button), or that a sound is beeping at a faster or slower rate than it actually is, and so on. Time is a rubbery thing.

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An interview with William Powers, author of Hamlet's Blackberry


Photo: Anne Ghory-Goodman

William Powers is the author of Hamlet’s BlackBerry.

Avi Solomon

First of all, I understand why you're having all these interviews because I think you've really touched on a sensitive issue for a lot of people, of being connected all the time.

William Powers

I've realized that it is sensitive, Avi, but I think we're only at the beginning of people recognizing it. People like you are the cutting edge of something and I'm not sure what it is, but there's some kind of dawning realization happening out there. It's fascinating to see it kind of blossom and I think that it's really just the start of something actually quite wonderful because I think we're going to wind up being a lot smarter about these digital tools.

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