Punk alert: Feeling “bitchy”

December 30, 2008 at 10:45 pm | In ideas | Comments Off on Punk alert: Feeling “bitchy”

It’s almost NYE – that dratted time of year when idiots worldwide propose resolutions and the rest of us stare blank-eyed at the cereal bowl of life.

I’m feeling particularly foul-minded these days, not least for being older (but not wiser to life, necesssarily), and for being at a point where reassessment seems …um, necessary, irrespective of being unwelcome.

I wonder how banality rises, if not to the top, at least to visibility.

Why has Die Zeit nothing better to do than to publish a six (6!) page interview with Juergen Habermas in which he manages (from what I gather, skimming the first page, being too bored to jump to the second page) to rehash original ideas already voiced with much more incisiveness elsewhere by other people, so they sound like platitudes and generalities when he voices them? Seriously, are German intellectuals still reading what Die Zeit dishes out, or is the paper just gearing this stuff to establishment academics and armchair radicals?

The interviewer prefaces a question of relative substance (“Was waren für Sie die eindrücklichsten Bilder dieser Krise?” “What were the most salient impressions of the crisis for you?”) with this: “Sie haben gerade Vorlesungen an der Universität Yale gehalten.”/”You just gave some lectures at Yale University.” (Except of course that it sounds more portentous in German…)

There’s the rot, right there. Whether or not Habermas gave lectures at Yale matters little to the quality of the ideas he expresses, yet within the institution (the newspaper – Die Zeit, academia, the whole hoary tradition of who he is), it’s paramount. Why is it significant to middle-brow newspaper readers – to the point that they need to be reminded – that Habermas lectured recently at Yale?

This is where reputation, clout, whuffie, institutional seal-of-approvalness, and all of that merge with the old broadcast mentality. The establishment is still broadcast.

(PS: the printable version comes to nine pages. Yikes. Must be large type.)

(PPS: no, it’s not large type – the PDF version is seven pages. Holy cow. I hope people love the planet and don’t bother printing this…)

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

December 28, 2008 at 2:30 am | In links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

December 21, 2008 at 2:30 am | In links | 2 Comments

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Canadian cities in a quagmire?

December 19, 2008 at 6:56 pm | In affordable_housing, canada, cities, housing, justice, social_critique, street_life, vancouver | Comments Off on Canadian cities in a quagmire?

We’re experiencing an exceptional cold weather spell in southwestern British Columbia, and last night a 47-year old homeless woman died in Vancouver.  She burned to death, trying to keep warm with a live fire; the police think her blankets must have caught fire. The story is all over the news of course, including here: Woman’s body discovered in burning shopping cart.  Like so many others, she kept her possessions – and at night, herself – in a shopping cart.  The cart, enclosed by blankets, became her pyre.  Unlike many people who are homeless, she was also a drug addict and shelter-resistant (someone who refuses to use shelters).

Regardless of where you stand on the issues surrounding homelessness, shelters, affordable housing, and what to do about people who are mentally ill or drug addicted, there’s one thing that struck me in the news item.  It showed once again that Canadian cities don’t have the autonomy they need, and that they will continue to face unique problems because of this lack.

I’ve written several times that it’s wrong that cities in Canada are “creatures of the Provinces” that don’t have real powers while simultaneously the senior levels of government have downloaded (or offloaded, the terms are used interchangeably) more and more responsibilities to them.  Trying to solve homelessness with the limited abilities to raise money that cities in Canada have is a huge challenge.  Compound this with problems posed by people who are seriously mentally ill or drug addicted, and you get a quagmire.

Quagmire, as in beyond “mere” crisis.

Tracey, the woman who died, was approached three times by Vancouver police and asked if she would come inside into a shelter.  She refused, and got quite angry by the third try, which took place around 12:30 a.m. Dec.19.  By 4:30, she had set herself alight.  What’s the city to do?

Here’s what the article says:

[Gregor] Robertson [Vancouver’s newly-elected mayor] is considering other ways to remove mentally ill people from the streets in life and death circumstances.

“We can’t literally let people die on our streets that can’t take care of themselves,” he said. “That’s immoral in my mind.”

One of the options is a program called “Code Blue,” where outreach workers can forcibly bring people inside if they’re believe to suffer from mental illness. It’s used in New York when temperatures dip below -9 C.

“It is something to look at,” says Rev. Bruce Curtiss of Vancouver’s Union Gospel Mission. “If someone is out there and not in a capacity for whatever reason.”

A final decision could not be made by the city and would rest with B.C.’s provincial government. There’s concern a Canadian version of Code Blue would be unconstitutional.

“The issue there really is ‘are we barred by the charter of rights and freedom from implementing that particular system or is there some other approach that our government could use to help someone like this individual?'” said B.C. Solicitor General John Van Dongen.

Yes, and while the B.C. Solicitor General studies the problem and the city consults with its lawyers, more people will die.

Remember that Vancouver, alone among Canada’s cities (at least in the West) has a Charter of its own, and therefore more autonomy than other Canadian cities.  (It’s a unique fluke that Vancouver has a charter, as far as I understand it. Lucky Vancouver.)

But even Vancouver is hog-tied, if not by the Province (of which, even with a Charter, it is still a “creature”), but also by Canada’s Charter of Rights and Freedoms, which seems to have been concocted at a heady time when all freedoms (especially in the abstract …sorry, do I sound jaundiced?) seemed like a great idea and no one considered that cities would be the refuge of people who are homeless – a difficult enough situation in itself – but who might also pose extra challenges if they are in addition mentally incapacitated or drug addicted to the point where they will simply die on the street unless forced to survive (by being sheltered).

Oh, and don’t forget: Canadian cities are supposed to “solve” all this downloaded misery with 8-cents from every dollar that Canadians pay in taxes, and with property and business taxes they collect from the folks in their municipality. They can’t float bonds and they can’t collect income or consumption taxes.


Articles all on Scribd now

December 17, 2008 at 10:54 pm | In FOCUS_Magazine, victoria, writing | Comments Off on Articles all on Scribd now

Just a quick update re. my magazine articles for Focus: all articles are now available on Scribd.

See them directly:

Or go to my Articles published in FOCUS Magazine, Victoria, Canada page and click through to individual articles from there.

What’s up/ what’s new?

Well, the remainder of 2008 is up, and all the 2006 and 2007 articles are now on Scribd, which means no more eons-long upload times. Just pick & click, and read away almost instantly.

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

December 14, 2008 at 2:31 am | In links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)
  • Rob blogged about Amsterdam’s re-think of its liberal laws regarding drug use (and prostitution, too). I left a *long* comment, a thinking-out-loud about how the factory system of education, coupled with a repression of creative risk-taking and innovation in the culture, enables and exacerbates turning to drugs.  (note: I created a separate blog post about this here)

    tags: robert_randall, drugs, socialcritique, drug_addiction, education, innovation, risk, youth, comments

  • Maginnis marshals arguments against the legalization of drugs. First, he presents arguments from all sides (pro & con), but then skewers what he defines as the 8 myths around the alleged benefits of legalization. His bottom line: drugs do harm and cause social disorder, and since “There is no ‘civil right’ to do what is wrong or harmful to yourself, your family, or your society,” there isn’t a convincing argument to be made for proceeding to accept drug use through legalization. (Note: Maginnis is a member of the Family Research Council, a “a Christian right non-profit think tank and lobbying organization” formed in 1981. See this page; eewww….)

    tags: legalization, drug_addiction, social_disorder

    [DIY city]’s second challenge, issued earlier this week, asks participants to “conceive of a grassroots ridesharing system that can overcome the problems inherent in ridesharing and achieve critical mass.”

    tags: diycity, worldchanging, twitter, carshare, transportation, infrastructure, cities, collaboration

  • Can’t sell copies of anything anymore if it’s easy to make copies. So what’s left? “[Kevn Kelly] sees the solution to this conundrum hinging on being able to identify qualities that themselves can’t be copied and believes we must do this from the perspective of a user. Kelly refers to these as “generatives” – things that are better than free.”

    tags: psfk, kevin_kelly, capitalism, economics, web_2.0

  • Haque makes a case similar to Natural Capitalism‘s – if you capitalize what’s currently expended (as a negative externality, say), you attach “real” value to it.

    Some interesting points/ questions, too:
    Capital deepening is the foundation of next-generation value creation. Why is capital deepening so important? The reason that capitalism can destroy the world is that most of the world doesn’t exist in an economic sense. And so when we capitalize rainforests, endangered species, community, the foregone opportunities of the poor, our own well-being – then they will finally have value: they can finally be priced, and so the fatcats of the world won’t be free to destroy them with impunity.
    Today’s so-called capitalists are anything but: mostly, they’re charlatans, impostors, and poseurs. But today’s most radical innovators are revolutionary, ironically enough, because they are learning to be genuine capitalists once again – capitalists in the 21st century sense of the word. They are discovering how to create value by growing new resources composed of social, natural, human, and cultural capital. By doing so, they are pumping new blood into capitalism’s failing heart.

    The bit on capital being a consensus is also thought-provoking.

    tags: umair_haque, capitalism, economics

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Drug use as side effect of suppressing innovation and risk-taking?

December 13, 2008 at 12:20 pm | In addiction, comments, creativity, education, ideas, innovation, social_critique | 4 Comments

The other day Rob Randall posted an entry, Amsterdam cracks down on prostitution, cannabis: lessons for Victoria?, on which I left a long comment.

Rob’s post was about how Amsterdam is reconsidering its liberal laws regarding drugs (and prostitution). My comment wasn’t about Amsterdam or about liberalizing drug laws (as such), but more discursive, “thinking-out-loud” about our factory school system, the artificial extension of childhood into late teens, and how we rather systematically suppress creative risk-taking and innovation in young people. I went so far as to suggest that maybe that’s why we have such a big drug-use problem in the first place.

Here’s my comment:

Permissive approaches to what we quaintly used to call “vice” don’t work if there’s a network – an entire ecosystem – of crime behind the behavior. Anyone who tells me that we should just legalize everything, and that this would get rid of the criminal element, is (imo) delusional. For one thing, what’s legal in one jurisdiction (say, Amsterdam) is not going to be universally legal everywhere (say, Afghanistan), which means you can’t get rid of the criminal element.

Further to that, when people compare our current social problems that are caused by interdicted drugs to the organized crime problems we saw during the era of alcohol prohibition, I also think they’re totally mistaken. Why? The two substance categories are apples and oranges – nay, apples and rocks: totally different.

Yes, alcohol can kill, it can derange people’s lives, destroy families, and turn (some) individuals into addicts (alcoholics). But it’s in no way as quickly and massively and universally disruptive and corrosive as cocaine, crack, crystal meth, heroin, and so forth are. Otherwise, every social drinker or everyone accustomed to drinking a glass or two of wine with their dinner would be saddled with the same problems that addicts of those other drugs have.

Yet they aren’t. Why is that? It’s not because alcohol is legal while drugs aren’t. It’s because those drugs really truly are bad for you, they alter your brain chemistry, and there’s no way – except in a ritualistic, quasi-annual or seasonal Saturnalia kind of way (think Mayan ritual) – that they can be integrated into well-functioning social routines. (And, um, the Mayans mixed their rituals with heavy-duty mayhem that no one would really be cool with today…)

So I wish people would stop with the “let’s legalize this and solve the problems that way” BS.

What’s the answer? Everyone keeps coming back to “education”: that if we educate our kids to the dangers of these drugs, they won’t do them.

Yet our kids are doing drugs anyway. So what’s going on? Maybe ‘education’ means a bit more than just warning people about the dangers. Maybe there has to be more authoritative parenting – note: I don’t write (or mean) authoritarian, but authoritative.

What does that mean, from where I’m sitting? Well, a bunch of things. First off, parents should be parents – they should damn well pay attention. For another thing, speaking as a parent, I wouldn’t (and I didn’t) send my kids into the factory school system. Pink Floyd said it best on their album “The Wall”: you’re just another brick in the wall. Schools as they exist today are by and large set up to babysit kids, to get them out of their parents’ hair so that the parents can go to work, and they’re designed like factories, where it’s “one size fits all,” and you’re a cog in the machine. Whatever drive you have to take risks, to be creative, to pursue your own dream (unless it fits in with the system) is drummed out of you by the curricula you’re obliged to follow, with bells that go off every 50 minutes to tell you to move on, irrespective of any desire on your part to continue pursuing a subject you just got interested in. It’s modeled on the factory, and a factory it is. It’s the opposite of a system conducive to innovation and creative risk-taking.

It’s a system that’s designed to kill whatever entrepreneurial or innovative spark you have, and it typically channels all your adolescent desire for proving yourself and for taking risks into the most inane and puerile (immature) behaviors of the peer group.

I’ve been reading and thinking about innovation (Canada hasn’t been particularly welcoming or conducive to innovation, by the way, as we don’t celebrate risk-taking here). I’m also thinking about how the drive to innovate, to undertake (i.e., entrepreneurialism), and to take risks is tied to biology and age: in the Renaissance, 14-year-olds (if they were born into the right families) ran city-states (Florence, eg.) or became apprentices so that by the time they were 18 or 19 they were called “masters.” (This was true for boys. Girls’ options were extremely limited: they undertook motherhood, an option tied solely to biology but not skill or inclination, and one that can gravely limit all other options, especially when embarked on so young. Luckily, we don’t encourage that any more, but there are still “buts”…)

Today, we extend childhood – which is just another way of killing or subduing or controlling the natural instinct to take risks. Hell, if having sex and procreating isn’t the ultimate risk, risking your very self to keep the species going, what is? And what’s typically of interest to many young people? If they’re sexually active, they’re not doing it to bug their parents, they’re doing it because it’s bred in the bone, it’s in the DNA: you have to do it (or at least have your attention aroused by it), it’s a drive, regardless of how much you think about it. (Of course, extensive or excessive cerebration has an effect on the drives, as the Surrealists well understood – which comes out in many of their visual works.)

I have to wonder whether drug use isn’t a by-product (so to speak) of the factory school system, which (imo) tends to throttle the natural (and good) inclinations of adolescents to take risks, to innovate, to undertake (entrepreneurialism). Put a couple of hundred frustrated teens into a factory, er, excuse me, school, and add some heavy dollops of crappy absentee parenting and a home-life where no one is paying attention to anything (it has to be said: parents have a lot to answer for!), and bingo-presto, you have a setting for a nihilistic peer culture whose creativity is thwarted, and which too often doesn’t have mature outlets for risk-taking. (And remember, I’m arguing that risk-taking, contrary to some research on the teenage brain, isn’t a medical condition or a question of incomplete neurological development: I’m arguing that it’s part of our DNA, and essential for an entrepreneurial and innovative and creative culture. But we deny it.) In a “perfect storm” type scenario (absent parents, no proper outlets for creativity, immature peer group, bad role models/no leadership models), those kids will do drugs, whether legal or illegal. They will seek them out, explore them, pour their energies into them.

After all, their own parents have been doping them up since they were babies, often with Ritalin or other behavior-modifying junk. So why shouldn’t they try some little extras to help them get through the asininity of their extended, risk-free/ un-innovative, endless childhoods?

In other words, I’m arguing that substance abuse and a badly suited education system (the factory model, based on 19th and early 20th century Fordist & Taylorist principles) and the suppression of (as well as the absence of a proper object and outlet for) innovation/ creative risk-taking / independent thinking must be thought of as pieces of the same puzzle. That’s something that should be tackled at social policy level (see also Judy Estrin‘s new book, Closing the Innovation Gap.)

I’m also arguing that the other big piece in that puzzle is absentee – or outright bad – parenting, which is relatively new as a mass phenomenon insofar as it has been created by recent generations who are themselves the product of an education system that’s outdated/ innovation-killing (or, worse, who are themselves drug-users), and who most certainly are boxed into the at least partially absent parent role if they’re trying to make their career mark, or just working as much as they can to keep up with …well, with keeping up (whatever that means in each case – in many cases, basic means: keeping a roof over one’s head and food on the table).

Everything is an ecosystem, a web.  You can’t tinker with stuff in isolation and expect to avoid consequences along the way.  This makes me think that the much-lauded concept of a track (career track, education track, policy track, etc.) is as artificial or outdated as other mechanical (factory model based) ways of thinking.  You can’t put careers on tracks or put kids on tracks or put your life on tracks or put social policy on tracks/ fast track policy without accounting in some way for the effects “your” tracks have on the ecosystem overall.  It’s not “isolatable” in the bigger sense, which means we need to keep big- and small-picture views in focus.

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

December 7, 2008 at 2:30 am | In links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

More Focus Magazine articles up on Scribd

December 6, 2008 at 11:56 am | In FOCUS_Magazine, housekeeping, urbanism, victoria, writing | Comments Off on More Focus Magazine articles up on Scribd

I managed to scan & upload a few more articles, this time starting with October 2006, and managing to get through half of 2007.  See my Scribd page here for details – there are now 3 folders (2006, 2007, 2008), to make it easier to find articles chronologically.

Next up, finish 2007, and then do the beginning months of 2008 (currently uploaded to the Berkman server in over-large PDFs). The Scribd format is much user-friendlier – very easy to zoom instantly to read clearly, etc. At least I think it’s user-friendly. Let me know / give feedback if there are problems – or kudos.

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