Peaceful Tectonics


The Mysterious = The Most Beautiful
December 5, 2008, 3:38 am
Filed under: Philosophy, Religion

This is a segment I found while surfing the NPR site.  It seems that they have rejuvenated their old radio series “This I Believe” which is based on a 1950s radio program of the same name, hosted by Edward R. Murrow. Murrow described the series as seeking”to point to the common meeting grounds of beliefs, which is the essence of brotherhood and the floor of our civilization.” How can you not love the premise of this show!?  I recommend taking a few minutes to read an assortment of testimonies, some of which are very personal declarations.  It is so important to hear the personal truths of others, whether we agree or disagree it helps us glean a better understanding of our own reality and our own philosophy of life.  I decided that Albert Einstein’s testimony was the most insightful.  I completely related to his sentiments about the Mysteries of the Universe and the importance of the creative feeling individual. 

Albert Einstein “This I believe” NPR

 

 

This essay aired circa 1954.

The most beautiful thing we can experience is the Mysterious — the knowledge of the existence of something unfathomable to us, the manifestation of the most profound reason coupled with the most brilliant beauty. I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, or who has a will of the kind we experience in ourselves. I am satisfied with the mystery of life’s eternity and with the awareness of — and glimpse into — the marvelous construction of the existing world together with the steadfast determination to comprehend a portion, be it ever so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature. This is the basis of cosmic religiosity, and it appears to me that the most important function of art and science is to awaken this feeling among the receptive and keep it alive.

I sense that it is not the State that has intrinsic value in the machinery of humankind, but rather the creative, feeling individual — the personality alone that creates the noble and sublime.

Man’s ethical behavior should be effectively grounded on compassion, nurture and social bonds. What is moral is not of the divine, but rather a purely human matter, albeit the most important of all human matters. In the course of history, the ideals pertaining to human beings’ behavior towards each other and pertaining to the preferred organization of their communities have been espoused and taught by enlightened individuals. These ideals and convictions — results of historical experience, empathy and the need for beauty and harmony — have usually been willingly recognized by human beings, at least in theory.

The highest principles for our aspirations and judgments are given to us westerners in the Jewish-Christian religious tradition. It is a very high goal: free and responsible development of the individual, so that he may place his powers freely and gladly in the service of all mankind.

The pursuit of recognition for their own sake, an almost fanatical love of justice and the quest for personal independence form the traditional themes of the Jewish people, of which I am a member.

But if one holds these high principles clearly before one’s eyes and compares them with the life and spirit of our times, then it is glaringly apparent that mankind finds itself at present in grave danger. I see the nature of the current crises in the juxtaposition of the individual to society. The individual feels more than ever dependent on society, but it is not felt in the positive sense, as an organic connectivity or a sense of security, but rather more as a type of endangerment to his natural rights, or even his economic existence. His place in society is further from that advanced and cultivated by his own egotistic driving factors, nonetheless hindering the weaker social driving forces to a large extent.

It is my belief that there is only one way to eliminate these evils, namely, the establishment of a planned economy coupled with an education geared towards social goals. Alongside the development of individual abilities, the education of the individual aspires to revive an ideal that is geared towards the service of our fellow man, and that needs to take the place of the glorification of power and outer success.

Translation by David Domine. Essay courtesy of the Albert Einstein Archives at The
Hebrew
University of
Jerusalem.

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Gone.
February 19, 2008, 9:54 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I’m thinking of revitalizing and doing some remodeling.  I will be back soon…



The Queen of Sciences
February 10, 2007, 11:34 am
Filed under: Education, Philosophy

Julian Baggini shares his interesting take on the trouble with kids today, that they don’t philosophise enough.  Although some psychologists would debate me on this issue, claiming that only certain age levels have the ability for abstract thought, but I too tend to agree that one problem with schools is that they do not emphasize critical thinking in any of their curriculum.  I am not talking about higher level philosophy or logic and reason but an emphasis on questioning and re-thinking or even challenging what students think they know.  I feel that the real crooks are the teachers who have set up a classroom which diminishes questions in order to maintain authority over the material.  Perhaps I should throw out all my material  and focus on the critical thinking skills for the rest of the semester.  I have a sinking feeling that despite the loss of content covered , that my students would consistently perform better in all their other classes and probably for the rest of thier educational track both inside and outside schools.  Shouldn’t we have a class devoted to these skills in high school? 

Kant or Cant?

Julian Baggini

February 5, 2007 4:45 PM

http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/julian_baggini/2007/02/post_1057.html

Forget turkey twizzlers, DVDs, computer games, lack of fresh air, parental separation, pre-pubescent sexualisation and early-onset mad consumerist disease. None of these alleged modern ills lies at the root of the trouble with kids today. No, the real problem is that they do not philosophise enough.

That is the conclusion you might be tempted to jump to if your powers of logical reasoning were deficient and you’d read about the amazing resultsachieved in Clackmannanshire, where children as young as four have been given philosophy lessons. The results, allegedly, include significant leaps in IQ, emotional intelligence, behaviour, confidence and self-esteem.

If there’s one thing philosophers are not in short supply of it’s confidence and self-esteem. Ours is the “queen of sciences”, the only discipline that goes right to the foundations and examines the fundamental assumptions upon which all belief is based. The unexamined life, we are fond of repeating, is not worth living. It sounds very noble, until you realise that the subtext is that not only are the Big Brother-watching masses unfit for existence, but even those engaged in less fundamental academic pursuits are lower forms of life.

The kids, however, are not studying semantic holism, logical positivism or first-order predicate calculus. What they’re actually doing is being encouraged to ask questions and investigate them together in a co-operative, supportive environment. This is nothing like the adversarial contests of erudition and logic that take place in the seminars of a traditional British philosophy department.
This is because the children, we are told, are being schooled in the older, Socratic method of question and answer. Poppycock. Socrates was not a consensual conversationalist. He specialised in picking holes in people’s beliefs until they were left humiliated and unsure of anything. If teachers really were subjecting toddlers to Socratic grillings, the child protection agency would be onto them like a shot.

It’s not philosophy as we know it at all, which is probably why it works. But “proper philosophers” could still learn something by the way in which these kindergarten Kants learn to really listen to one another. Formal schooling in philosophy tends to teach you to listen for just one thing: logical consistency. That is as wrong-headed as learning to listen only to the melody of a piece of music and to ignore harmony, rhythm, timbre, phrasing and the rest.

I’ve increasingly noticed this in debates about religion. Many atheist philosophers seem to think the value and nature of religion is determined purely by the truth or falsity of its creeds, understood literally. Religion’s other dimensions – practice, attitude, form of life and so on – are ignored as irrelevant at best, and secondary at worst. As an atheist myself, I find this spiritual tone-deafness detrimental to the cause.

Philosophy is supposed to discourage over-confidence that we are right, but, in practice, it tends to encourage over-confidence that its practitioners uniquely have the right tools to determine what is right. Everyone tends to exaggerate the importance of what they do when advocating it to the wider world. But philosophers have a special reason to refrain from over-hyping their discipline. As Simon Glendinning, the director of the Forum for European Philosophy, explains it, philosophical scepticism must be extended to the value of philosophy itself, if it is to have any integrity. Any philosopher worth her salt will frequently wonder if what they do isn’t just a bathetic waste a time.

The children of Clackmannanshire provide heartening evidence that thinking hard about big questions, in a co-operative, respectful way, is a good thing. Philosophers should learn from the experience, not take all the credit for it.



Superstition Trumps the Law
January 27, 2007, 8:50 am
Filed under: Philosophy, Politics, Religion
Ok, so the British Parliament is debating whether or not the Catholic Church needs to bow down to state law which allows gay parents to adopt children.  In the UK gays have also been given the same rights as their straight counter parts in regards to marriages etc.  Anyway, this is a sticky subject, first of all because it seems that in one instance  the church should be allowed to practice freely without pressure from the government to conform.  That allowing and supporting gay adoption would be in violation of their religious beliefs and practices.  This seems logical enough, but on the other hand it also seems very discriminatory to allow an organization to target a group of individuals and deliberately refuse them access because of a trivial fact of nature.  In this article AC Grayling clearly expresses the later sentiment, claiming that churches are given no rights which allow them to impose themselves on government or the rule of law.  I also tend to agree, despite my belief that religious institutions should be allowed to practice freely, this is an entirely different matter.  Religions should not be given special preference and exemptions from the law that other groups might not enjoy.  This is just an erosion of the supremacy of democratic law.  Anyway, this article was interesting and touched on a debate I was having just the other day.  Too bad we are so far from this kind of a discussion in the United States.

A law unto themselves

AC Grayling
January 24, 2007 04:00 PM

http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/ac_grayling/2007/01/prelates_for_prejudice.html

So the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have writtento Tony Blair in support of Cardinal Murphy-O’Conner’s request for an exemption for the Roman Catholic church on gay adoption. What does it really ask? It asks the prime minister to grant the Roman Catholic church’s wish to continue being prejudiced and discriminatory in attitude and practice against a section of society whom texts 2000 and more years old instruct them to regard as abominations.

Prejudice and discrimination are abominations. So are those who actively seek to maintain them.

What have we learned today in light of the Archbishops’ letter? That Tony Blair has been actively campaigning in cabinet to have an exemption granted to the Roman Catholic church (let us keep things in very sharp and very relevant perspective here, and remember what this organisation might equally well be called: viz. the Roman Paedophile Protection Agency) to be exempted from the law of the land so that it can continue its discriminatory prejudices.

In passing let us note that Mrs Blair, the prime minister’s Catholic wife, reputedly earns more than a million a year as a human rights barrister. Here lie ironies indeed. It would be interesting to know her stand on this issue, as one who does so well financially out of protecting human rights. In their pillow talk does she urge her husband to respect principles of equality before the law, and the human rights of all British citizens, in the face of attacks from narrow-minded bigots? Or does she think that personal choice of superstition trumps the law?

The churches are making common cause in seeking exemptions from the law of the land. Grant one, and soon there will be another, and another; the self-selected coteries of believers will be islands of the exempted, as once they were in our history – above the law, protected by the law in doing what others will be punished for doing, because these latter do not have the modern analogue of “benefit of clergy“.

Notice this very central and salient fact. Even we who most robustly oppose the effect of superstition on public policy in society, and (separately but relatedly) combat the intellectual corruptions of superstitions belief systems, do not wish to stop cardinals, archbishops or their flocks from believing what they like and getting together in dark buildings to mumble and genuflect and roll their eyes up to heaven. Indeed we would act to protect their rights in this respect if others threatened them with laws to prevent them doing it, or ordering them to believe something else, even as we shake our heads over them or laugh outright at them for the absurdity of what they do. But we cannot accept that they should impose their beliefs and choices on the rest of society, or be immune from the law, or be allowed to perpetuate discrimination and bigotry, or be allowed to derail the progress that the rest of society is making towards fair, open, decent, and kindly dispensations of acceptance and inclusion.

The current brouhaha is only accidentally about adoption. If it were genuinely about the disgusting view of the churchmen that gay people cannot be good parents the situation would be every bit as bad. Parenting is about love, support, nurturing, not about what sex the carer happens to be; it is a complex of social skills; parturition is biological, parenting is social, a fact the churchmen characteristically confuse because their antediluvian mindset cannot permit the distinction.

Make no mistake: the pious fig leaves of faith cover suppurating noisome sores of reaction and bigotry, as this campaign of Prelates for Prejudice shows. This is a test case for whether we as a society are going to allow ancient superstition to dictate terms, or whether we are going to have to re-learn the lessons of the secularism – against which the churches fought and fought, spilling the blood of millions: never forget how hard they fought to stop progress in these as in all other fields – which has got us as far (not far enough) as we have got today. The churches are emphatically at fault here, and if their fifth column in Downing Street wins them the day by subversion of the principle of the rule of law, it will mean that the old culture war will have to be fought all over again.



“..his crime was looking up the truth..”
January 13, 2007, 7:01 pm
Filed under: History, Philosophy, Religion, Science, Uncategorized
In an attempt to save his head, literally, Galileo changed the way we look at the world.  By the way,  this has nothing to do with the planets revolving around the god damn sun.  In this article Robert Crease informs us about Galileo’s arguments which allowed for the union of science and god. Good stuff.  He later warns us that “we must not succumb to the temptation of characterizing scientists as behaving, and seeking to behave, in a priest-like manner”.  I thought it was too interesting not to post.  word. 

The book of nature

Critical Point: December 2006

Galileo’s famous metaphor of the “book of nature”, which he used to defend the work of scientists from religious authorities, can be dangerous today, says Robert P Crease

In 1623 Galileo crafted a famous metaphor that is still often cited by scientists. Nature, he wrote, is a book written in “the language of mathematics”. If we cannot understand that language, we will be doomed to wander about as if “in a dark labyrinth”.

Hidden meaning
Hidden meaning

Like other metaphors, this one has two facets; it is insightful, but it may be misleading if taken literally. It captures our sense that nature’s truths are somehow imposed on us – that they are already imprinted in the world – and underlines the key role played by mathematics in expressing those truths.

But Galileo devised the metaphor for a specific purpose. Taken out of its historical context and placed in ours, the image can be dangerously deceptive.

The two books

The idea of a book of nature did not, however, originate with Galileo. For centuries it had been an accepted part of religious doctrine that the world contained two fundamental books. Nature, the first book, is full of signs that reveal a deeper meaning when interpreted according to scripture, the second book, which supplies the ultimate meaning or syntax of nature’s signs. Understanding involved reading the books together, going back and forth between what one finds in the world and what one reads in scripture. Indeed, reading the Bible was once considered part and parcel of studying nature, and not in any way anti-scientific.

During the Renaissance, however, scholars came to appreciate more keenly that the truths of nature were not always easy to discern. Rather, such truths were often cleverly encoded in nature and so required a special training to unlock. Meanwhile, the Protestant Reformation brought about changes in the understanding of texts, emphasizing the truths in them that were exact and self-contained rather than symbolic or allegorical.

Building on these scientific and religious changes, in 1623 Galileo decided to appropriate the “two books” metaphor for his own purposes to get him out of a jam. In fact, his troubles had begun a decade earlier, when one of his students was discussing Galileo’s work at the Pisan court, and a participant noted the apparent conflict between scripture and Galileo’s scientific claims, especially regarding the motion of the Earth. The authorities were also threatening to put De Revolutionibus, written by Galileo’s intellectual ally Copernicus, on the official index of forbidden books for similar reasons.

Worried for himself and for other scientists, Galileo wrote a letter to the Grand Duchess Christina about the connection between science and scripture. In that letter he appealed to the traditional image that God reveals himself to humanity in two books – nature and scripture. He suggested that both books express eternal truths and are compatible because they have the same author – God is saying the same thing in two different ways.

Galileo’s arguments seem to have convinced Christina, but not the authorities. In 1616 De Revolutionibus was put on the index, followed by Kepler’s textbook on Copernican astronomy in 1619, and Galileo himself came under attack. Partly in response he wrote The Assayer, which contains the famous passage that “the grand book of the universe…cannot be understood unless one first learns to comprehend the language and to read the alphabet in which it is composed…the language of mathematics”. Those versed in mathematics and physics, in other words, can know aspects of God’s handiwork that others cannot.

Galileo chose his metaphor carefully, and its roots were deep in Western metaphysics and theology. First, it used the traditional idea that God revealed his power, glory and truth in the world. Second, it relied on the equally traditional notion that the Bible cannot go against clear demonstrations of logic or the senses. Finally, it appealed to the time-honoured analogy of nature as a book. Galileo was on solid theological ground.

In fact, Galileo had stood the old image on its head, even if he was not fully aware of what he had done. The image of the book of nature now implied something almost opposite to what it had before – that the signs of nature had their own self-contained meaning. To understand nature one did not need to rely on the Bible as an allegorical aid; studying nature was an independent activity best carried out by a separate, professional class of scholars. If anything, the book of nature now became the primary text – the blueprint, written in technical language – and scripture the user’s manual, written in popular language.

Galileo was suggesting that scientists were as authoritative as the clergy. As Peter Harrison remarks in his book The Bible, Protestantism, and the Rise of Natural Science, “the book of nature and those natural philosophers who interpreted it…assumed part of the role previously played by the sacraments and the ordained priesthood”.

The critical point

But the image of the book of nature can haunt us today. One reason is that it implies the existence of an ultimate coherent truth – a complete text or “final theory”. While many scientists may believe this, it is ultimately only a belief, and it is far likelier that we will endlessly find more in nature as our concepts and technology continue to evolve. Furthermore, the image suggests that the “text” of the book of nature has a divine origin. The idea that the world was the oeuvre of a superhuman author was the precursor of the idea that it was the engineering project of an intelligent designer. This implication has led some contemporary sociologists of science to succumb to the temptation of characterizing scientists as behaving, and seeking to behave, in a priest-like manner.

The most important lesson to be found in Galileo’s image is the need to keep developing and revising the metaphors with which we speak about science.

About the author

Robert P Crease is chairman of the Department of Philosophy, State University of New York at Stony Brook and historian at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, e-mail rcrease@notes.cc.sunysb.edu



Discrimination? When will we see it?
January 13, 2007, 6:44 pm
Filed under: International Affairs, News, Religion, Uncategorized
Oh man, I am getting a little preachy with this topic, but it is only because I wish we were talking about these kinds of things in the US.  This is a short one.

Halting progress

AC Grayling

January 9, 2007 02:30 PM

http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/ac_grayling/2007/01/an_obscentiy_against_human_rig.html

There is only one printable phrase apt enough for religious groups seeking exemption from the requirement not to discriminate against gay people, and that is that their actions constitute an obscenity against human rights.

To obscenity add hypocrisy. Among the various items of deliberate misinformation being spread by religious groups about the anti-discrimination regulations is one that says primary schools will be obliged to promote gay civil partnerships on an equal footing with marriage. (Well, why not? Human affections and the commitments and comforts they generate are a great good.) As it happens the regulations do no such thing. Yet the law requires all schools to subject children to a “daily act of worship”, aka stone-age superstition with a tendency at one of its extremes to end in suicide bombings. I look forward to the day we secularists rally outside parliament by torchlight against brainwashing children into the nonsense left over from the ignorance of humankind’s infancy. In a choice between promoting civil partnerships for gays and obliging children to sacrifice a goat to Zeus, I’d go for the former every time.

One of the points being made in the debate over the anti-discrimination regulations is that people who run cafes and B&Bs who do not wish to serve gay people (“because it makes them condone gay sex” contrary to the morality devised in the sixth century BC) will be forced to quit their jobs and do something else. Tough. If they do not wish to treat other human beings equally, let them indeed do something else. That is exactly what we would say if they refused to serve black people, women, or Jews. The discrimination is the same, the unacceptability of discrimination is the same, the contempt one feels for them is the same.

And on the subject of Jews: what a disgrace that the stone-agers outside parliament tonight will include a Jewish group. If anyone should be against discrimination of any kind, it is a Jew. Alongside the Jews murdered in Auschwitz were homosexuals, wearing a pink patch where the Jews wore a Star of David. The despairing implication of the fact that Jews are joining Christian and Muslims – the usual standard bearers of intolerance and reaction – in this campaign is that too many people learn too little, never connect the dots, and repeat the ghastly errors of the past, when under the thought-inhibiting influence of such toxins as religious belief.

I write the above in anger. This effort to halt the fight against the evil of discrimination is a step too far by the religious, so ready to squeal like pigs when it is they who feel they are being discriminated against. They are trying to roll back the gains in civil liberties and the creation of an open society, which it has taken us centuries to achieve, from the time that Torquemada was burning people at the stake for incorrect versions of Christianity. Let people believe in fairies if they wish to: I would fight as hard to protect the right of the benighted to the stupidest beliefs as to protect the right of gays to equal treatment in all respects; but the condition is that they do not impose those beliefs on others, or the antediluvian morality that goes with it. And that is the line in the sand.



Think before you buy.
December 21, 2006, 12:00 pm
Filed under: Foreign Affairs, International Affairs

I found this short article in Foreign Policy Magazine.  It is called the “list of killer products”.  I find it difficult to read these kinds of articles because I probably won’t change my behavior at all.  Well ok I might not go out and buy a set of teak furniture.  Like I would in the first place.  Perhaps the simple tips it gives us will make us more ethical and less hypocritical.  probably not, nevertheless it is interesting to read the list because most of the information was news to me.  Once you finish reading you will realize just how murderous you have become.  

The List: Killer Products
Posted December 2006

Think purchasing a diamond is an ethical dilemma? You don’t know the half of it. A host of common consumer items helps fuel conflict, ruins the environment, and relies on child labor. In this week’s List, FP spotlights a few products to think twice about this shopping season.

Gold Jewelry

Beware of: Gold

The cost:Environmental damage and human rights. Gold ore is often sprayed with cyanide after extraction to separate the gold from the host minerals. The cyanide-contaminated leftovers, 20 tons of which are used to produce one gold ring, are often abandoned or dumped in nearby water sources. Moreover, gold mines from Indonesia to the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) have notoriously poor labor standards.

The alternative: Currently, there is no certification for “clean” gold, as there is for diamonds, for example. The best option is to buy jewelry from gold that has been recycled. The bad news is that without independent, third-party verification, it is difficult to ensure that your gold is clean. The good news is that, once you find it, clean gold is no more expensive than normal gold.

The future:The human rights group Oxfam America and environmental group Earthworks are pushing a No Dirty Gold campaign for jewelers who demand responsible mining practices. A dozen high-end industry leaders such as Tiffany & Co. and Zale Corp. have already signed on, but mass retailers including Target and Wal-Mart have not. Oxfam and Earthworks also encourage consumers to sign a pledge supporting responsible mining.


Candy Bars

Beware of: Cocoa powder

The cost: Child labor. Seventy percent of the world’s cocoa (and most of the United States’) comes from West Africa, where nearly 300,000 children under the age of 14 toil in dangerous conditions on cocoa plantations. In the Ivory Coast, where more than half of the region’s cocoa is produced, more than 100,000 children work in near slavery, subject to both injury from the machetes used to harvest the plant and from toxic pesticides that are banned in the United States and Europe.

The alternative:Buy Fair Trade Certified cocoa, which comes from farms that only employ adults and use legal pesticides. The price is equivalent to that of gourmet chocolate. If you have to get your fix and can’t find Fair Trade chocolate, look for products from Cadbury. The British company buys 90 percent of its cocoa from Ghana, where trafficking of child workers is prohibited.

The future: In October, the World Cocoa Foundation and the U.S. Agency for International Development announced the establishment of the “Healthy Communities” program to help West African cocoa farmers improve their economic, social, and environmental standards. The program is designed to help as many as 150,000 farm families during the next five years. But with 700,000 farmers in the Ivory Coast alone, it’s unlikely to affect widespread change.


Teak Furniture

Beware of: Burmese teak

The cost: The Burmese people’s freedom and environment. Teak is used primarily for outdoor furniture, and the Burmese variety is considered the strongest and most beautiful in the world. Sales have also helped fund the country’s brutal military regime for nearly three decades. Although the United States outlawed nearly all imports from Burma in 2003, more than 17.7 million cubic feet of Burmese teak was exported to 167 countries last year. Harvesting teak is also incredibly damaging to the environment. Forest land in Burma shrunk by 75 percent during the 20th century, primarily because of the extractive harvesting methods used to procure teak and other hardwoods.

The alternative: Consumers should purchase more common woods or try plantation teak, which, though not as strong as old-growth teak, doesn’t contribute to deforestation.

The future: Burmese teak may be here to stay. Some teak industry Web sites boast that 80 percent of the world’s teak still comes from Burma. Moreover, though the United States is pushing for U.N. sanctions against Burma, the military junta maintains close relations with China, so it is doubtful that any sanction regime will get very far.


Shower Curtains

Beware of: Polyvinyl chloride (PVC), also known as vinyl.

The cost: Your health and the environment. PVC, a durable plastic, is everywhere. It’s used to make building materials (including vinyl siding, flooring, and pipes), plastic children’s toys, and garden hoses, among other consumer products. The smell of a new car? That’s PVC. The smell is actually PVC toxins, some of which are suspected carcinogens, being released into the air. Children are exposed to the same toxins when they chew on PVC-plastic toys. The production and disposal of PVC also releases mercury and dioxin into the environment.

The alternative:Buy shower curtains made from Peva, which is a less destructive plastic. PVC-free children’s toys are also readily available, including Lego building blocks and Gerber toys. The Greenpeace Web site has an extensive “report card” for various toy companies.

The future: Although PVC is still legal for many uses, there are bans or restrictions on PVC toys in the European Union, Japan, and Mexico, among other countries. Some U.S. cities, including New York, Boston, and San Francisco, have placed limits on government purchases of the material. A number of companies, including Nike, Mattel, and Honda, have adopted PVC phase-out polices as well.


Cell Phones

Beware of:Columbite-tantalite, also known as coltan, and cassiterite, aka tin ore.

The cost:Unrest in the DRC. The war-torn country is home to 80 percent of the world’s coltan, which is an important mineral for constructing circuit boards found in cell phones and other electronic devices, like computers and TV remote controls. Coltan is the best mineral for storing and conducting electrical currents on circuit boards. The DRC is also home to large amounts of tin, which is increasingly replacing lead as the material for solder on circuit boards. During the past decade, local warlords have used profits from the resources to fund an ongoing civil war.

The alternative:Australia also produces coltan, but tracing the source of your electronic goods’ coltan is nearly impossible. The best bet is to recycle your electronic goods so that the coltan can be reused.

The future:The prices of both coltan and cassiterite dropped with the end of the dot-com boom, so less money is ending up in the hands of DRC warlords. Plus, high-tech manufacturers are always looking for newer, better building materials. However, coltan is currently the most efficient conductor, and tin is a significant improvement on lead. The best hope is that the recent elections in DRC bring stability to the resource-rich country.