The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

November 25, 2012 at 9:00 pm | In links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)
  • Singularly unappealing, but fascinating. And a boon if it works: treat auto-immune disease by ingesting pig worm eggs.
    Biopharmaceutical company Coronado Biosciences is conducting clinical trials using the eggs of the pig whipworm to regulate immune activity. The treatment is centered on the “hygiene hypothesis,” which asserts that today’s sterile, germ-free homes can actually make us sick. Lack of exposure to pathogens could prevent immune systems from properly regulating, explained Dr. Bobby Sandage, CEO of Coronado.

    Worms co-evolved with all animals, dating as far back as dinosaurs. Foreign bodies usually trigger an acute immune response when they infect animals, but the worms figured out a way to the dampen it, creating a potentially symbiotic relationship with the host organism. Anti-inflammatory cytokines – the messenger cells of the immune system – are created and produce a therapeutic response that could treat chronic diseases.

    tags: health auto_immune disease worms smartplanet

  • Fantastic article about two developers in DC who are bringing “disruption” to how real estate development gets financed.
    You can invest in buying your own home. But you can’t buy into a true real estate deal unless government regulators believe you’re wealthy enough to know how to handle your own money. Until now, the Millers themselves have been restricted to raising funds from accredited investors they personally know. This is how the system works: If you want in, you must know the right people and have enough money – six or seven figures’ worth.

    Most American cities as we know them today weren’t built this way. Historically, hotels and restaurants and shops were built by local people investing in their own neighborhoods. “And now, people are invested in nothing local!” Ben exclaims. “Everything’s remote, everything’s on Wall Street, everything’s in mutual funds.”

    tags: atlantic_cities emily_badger development urbanism urban_renewal

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

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

November 18, 2012 at 4:30 am | In links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)
  • Fantastic visuals (maps) and great analysis of why it was inevitable that the Republicans lost in cities (aside from the fact that they openly mock all urban agendas):
    In a good piece on the GOP’s problem with geography earlier this week, The New Republic’s Lydia DePillis interviewed Princeton Historian Kevin Kruse, who made this point succinctly: “There are certain things in which the physical nature of a city, the fact the people are piled on top of each other, requires some notion of the public good,” he said. “Conservative ideology works beautifully in the suburbs, because it makes sense spatially.”

    tags: usa politics republicans density cities urbanism maps visuals

  • My Nov. 2012 article for North Shore Art Throb
    What Pride Parades and an attitude of celebrating tolerant communities can do, as so many groups and individuals here attest, is make it possible for people to act from a position of strength. Whether you’re an entrepreneur or activist, a climate of safety versus debilitating danger is essential to moving forward, fostering resilience and contributing to the whole community.

    Resilience is buoyancy: without it, we can’t bounce back from adversity. And like love, it’s what the world needs now.

    tags: yule art_throb lgbt tolerance resilience salem

  • Who would have guessed? (Who wouldn’t have!)
    …now there’s another reason to rethink that stable but meaningless job versus a more meaningful job, life path, or vocation: it appears that a sense that your life has purpose, and that what you do matters, may actually protect your brain from the clinical effects of Alzheimer’s disease.

    tags: atlantic_monthly alzheimer depression mental_health eudaimonia

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

Hack your knees

November 16, 2012 at 10:55 am | In health | Comments Off on Hack your knees

Two weeks after my 17th birthday, in a rush of enthusiasm over finally graduating from high school, I raced home one night through a backyard. Confronted by a fence, I opted to leap over it, and promptly tore cartilage and ligaments in my left knee.

Wow, that hurt.

It laid me up for a while, and sadly my poor knee was never quite the same. By the time I was in my early 20s, it went “out” so often that I finally saw a proper orthopedic doctor and had arthroscopic surgery to remove the “joint mice” (bits of broken cartilage, sometimes called joint rats) that were floating about and getting into the knee-bending operation at inopportune moments, causing significant pain and immobility.

The surgeon, bless him, told me that the inside of my kneecap looked like shredded crab meat.


The knees (both of them, frankly) have never gotten better. I just work around them.

And now, fast-forward several decades – too-too many decades! For those of you also suffering from aging knees and the accompanying aches, here’s a hack I had to remind myself of just yesterday, when I noticed more-than-usual persistent creaks while climbing up and down stairs (especially down: up is easy, down is much harder on the knees): lift your legs as though you’re a freaking prancing pony.

It sounds odd, but it’s a tip I learned last fall from a video on how to run. See the article The Once and Future Way to Run. The technique came in really useful while I lived in a 3-level condo in Portland OR for 5 months. In the NY Times article, running guru Christopher McDougall explains how a 19th century running technique can help overcome injury and – given enough dedication – would let even people like me return to moderate jogging (not that I will).

Read the article, but here’s the video you want to watch to see the prancing pony steps you need to take when climbing stairs (especially going down).

I think it must have something to do with the effort of engaging one’s thigh muscles before letting the knees take the weight. Works for me, at any rate. That, and squats. 😉

No man is an island. How come communities are?

November 15, 2012 at 6:28 pm | In guerilla_politics, ideas, just_so, land_use | Comments Off on No man is an island. How come communities are?

I don’t like every article published by City Journal – too often, I can imagine conservative think tank folk nodding their heads while reading its jeremiads about popular culture and decline, particularly as the articles describe how that decline is hastened (so they would argue) by “liberalism.” In other words, it’s often just a tad too ideological.

But I really liked Michael Anton’s piece, Tom Wolfe’s California. Anton points out that Wolfe, who’s seen as quintessentially belonging to New York City, spent a lot of time in California – seminal time, in fact.

In City Journal‘s grand tradition of California-bashing (the magazine does like to mention frequently that the state is a basket case, although I have no idea what they would like California to become… Florida?), we learn that in the 1960s Wolfe recognized in California’s incipient “statuspheres” (those subcultures fixated on surfing or pimping out and drag racing cars, etc.) the trends (downward, of course, this being City Journal) that would soon be embraced by the whole (declining) USA. (It just makes you wanna shout “yee-haw!” and go rustle up some cattle, drill for oil, and ride a horse into a healthy Texas sunset, don’t it…? /snark)

But seriously. Anton’s article is a great read – and it makes this reader want to get her hands on Wolfe’s books, to re-read some as well as read others for the first time, in either case with Anton’s insights into Wolfe front and center. Given our current passage through an economic age of sharp divisions (fabulously gilded on the one teeny-weeny tiny hand, soiled and dragged through the gutter on the rather over-large other), Anton’s analysis of what Wolfe wrote about money is especially interesting.

The economic boom after World War II resulted in a middle class that was rich, which in turn had a profound effect on how culture shaped up in California. As Anton notes, “But the thing about California’s middle class, especially at the time Wolfe began his investigations, is that it’s weird.” And a little further down: “All that money, freedom, and sense of limitless possibility have the same effect on California writ large as they do on people who rocket overnight from steelworker’s son to superstar. Out pours everyone’s inner weird.”

Between these two observations, there’s the following – and this is what really grabbed me, because after ten years of living on an actual island (one that was quite weird, too) I’m very interested in the phenomenon of “islanding” generally:

There is, in California, an inherent strangeness that has always attracted loners, dreamers, and outliers. Hemmed in on all sides by mountains, forests, deserts, and the sea, California is an island in every sense but the literal, with its own distinct climate, air, soil, flora, and fauna. Geographically and culturally, California is a world unto itself. [emphasis added]

“…an island in every sense but the literal”: there’s the key thing, for me. How does it happen, this “islanding”? What makes communities self-referential and relatively immune to outsiders? Not too long ago I heard the term “island” applied to a neighboring Boston North Shore municipality. The town in question is definitely not an actual island. The unflattering implication, however, was that people who come from or move to this place are (or become) islanders, and that their world-view changes.

Does it mean that islanders (real or figurative) become too convinced of their own importance, uniqueness, singularity? Do they care less about those not “on the island”?

What’s the balance between tradition and innovation on an island? How does change happen? Is “balance” between these two possible or desirable in the first place? What do communities (municipalities, cities) need to do to avoid islanding? My first thought here is allow more immigration and increase density, get people to rub up against one another. But my “real island” experience also taught me that once the island mindset is in a place’s DNA, it infects newcomers, too. If you live on an island – real or figurative – you will go native, believe me.

And what about modern versions of islanding, as described in Bill Bishop’s The Big Sort? Is this just an instinct we have, one which we repeat whenever we clump together? Probably. Then how do we make sure it doesn’t i-s-o-l-a-t-e us? Can you isolate (hah, there’s that word again) the island DNA and inoculate against it?

Seems like an important thing, ’cause if it goes too far, you end up in a bubble, unable to perceive beyond the limits (and illusions) you’ve constructed. Even Republican ideologues ought now to understand that danger.

My Victoria friend Jarren Butterworth contemplating “Too many islands,”
photo ©Lena Vorontsova
(used with permission)

Road warriors

November 13, 2012 at 10:11 am | In cities, education, just_so | Comments Off on Road warriors

The other day I saw a car with New Hampshire license plates and a school sticker from a nearby private school parked in my neighborhood. I surmised that the driver, an attractive early-40s woman who was fiddling with her phone, was in all likelihood the parent of a student at the well-regarded school. The school is about five minutes from my house, but the closest New Hampshire town is about 30 miles away.

Gotta say, that lady really gave me pause.

Warning: boring personal stuff ahead – go to below the map to skip…

[Also, see Addendum at bottom of post]

In 2002, my family and I moved away from the same neighborhood and city on Boston’s North Shore to which we then returned in 2012. We had begun homeschooling in 2000, and by 2002 we opted to live in Victoria, Canada (the capital city of British Columbia). One of the great benefits of moving to Victoria was that it got us out of the car.

Before we moved I used to spend a lot of time driving my kids around: to school, to extra-curricular classes, to other people’s houses. It was a lifestyle that continued even after we started homeschooling. It seemed that any place anyone wanted to go to required a car (not least because, aside from the commuter rail into Boston, public transportation isn’t exactly a great alternative around here).

After our move to Victoria in 2002, all that stopped. The children instead walked, biked, or bused to most of the places they needed (or wanted) to go, whether it was the Victoria Conservatory of Music (VCM), the YMCA, the library, or, later, a year of high school or university.

Downtown was just a few blocks from our house in one direction, and in the other lay densely populated residential neighborhoods. We could walk to three full service grocery stores, a couple of bakeries, a spring-through-fall farmers market, movie theaters, live theaters, the opera, the art gallery, parks and beaches, shops, restaurants and coffee shops in “villagenodes, Chinatown, Old Town, and more. If the walk was too far, there was a bus, and if that was too limiting, there were bikes. And of course there was also the car, and we used it. But not excessively.

I am dead serious when I say that getting out of the car was the best thing we did for our kids. Seeing the road warrior with the New Hampshire plates and a kid in a North Shore school hammered home just how different our ten years in Victoria were, compared to the nonchalant embrace of pavement that’s so common here.

If I pick South Hampton NH as the closest point across the state line, the daily trek to that private school in Beverly Massachusetts is ~33 miles. The drive will take between 45 minutes to an hour, if conditions are favorable. The parent may or may not be heading to points further south, adding to her journey. At any rate, the road-warrior-in-training kid has almost two hours of vehicle time per day, five days a week.

Hard to comprehend.

Equally difficult to fathom from a more urban perspective is the no doubt low-density, probably homogenous, possibly wooded-but-suburban enclave this youngster is growing up in. When my kids walked downtown to the VCM, they encountered the homeless shelter next door, and, sadly, the junkies shooting up outside the music building. And along most of the downtown streets, they often ran a gauntlet of panhandlers. This wasn’t a good thing, but it gave them a perspective on life choices – and life disasters. They developed a feel for how to engage (or not) with street life, and how to feel safe (and not paranoid). You sure didn’t want to engage the tweaking meth-head falling down on the sidewalk, but it was ok to respond to the panhandler’s sometimes sarcastic passive-aggressive/ sometimes genuine “have a nice day” with “you, too, man,” …even when you didn’t give him or her any money.

It’s not the case that my kids only saw junkies and beggars on Victoria’s streets (although the downtown seemed to have more than its fair share): my point is that they saw many people who were not like them, who were different. Admittedly, Victoria (which is an expensive place to live) is predominantly white, and if not white, then Asian. Minorities really are a minority. But even within that mostly white population, there’s diversity – in age, income, outlook and lifestyle.

If, on the other hand, you live a good chunk of each day in your car, you’re perforce isolated from other human beings. The car creates a bubble and barrier around you, cuts you off from experiencing the humanity that’s past your windshield. That’s why drivers can be so rude: it’s like being online – you do things you wouldn’t dream of doing to someone close up, face-to-face.

If on top of that your home is a house in an area without sidewalks, where you must drive to buy basic necessities, your contact to “different” people is even more limited. And until you’re able to drive yourself, your dependence on mom or dad for any sort of mobility is cast in bronze – or whatever extruded material car makers use these days.

I’ve often wondered why parents drive their kids to school – there are so many reasons. Now I wonder why someone would drive their kid +/- 33 miles to school. And maybe I can guess why: because at this particular school, the student will find all the lovely qualities missing in other areas of her life:  a sense of belonging to something larger, a well-curated feint at diversity, community outreach (soup kitchens, etc.).

This school will produce a well-rounded graduate with all the right extra-curricular achievements – like community service in diverse social settings, so crucial to the college application. Why those good things aren’t baked into our built environments, however, is a conundrum. Something is backward here.

Addendum, Nov.14:

Just a thought, but you know how we’ve been hearing that sitting down for large chunks of our daily 24 hours is shaving years off our lives? And you know how recent reports say that life expectancy is actually declining for (some) Americans (i.e., young people today will live shorter, rather than longer, lives than their parents)? Maybe all that sitting around in cars – starting at very young ages – is a contributing factor to bad health in more ways than we ever suspected.

Obama won, cut the fear-mongering

November 7, 2012 at 11:05 am | In politics | Comments Off on Obama won, cut the fear-mongering

We have re-elected Obama (not, as the Wall Street Journal put it in an early-morning mobile front page version, let “Obama seize victory,” as if against the electorate’s will). I know there’s no magic wand in the President’s toolbox, so I’m not starry-eyed about instant improvements in the country’s economic — or possible triple-bottom-line — outlook. But I’m very glad Obama, and not Romney, won. And I’m very confused by the kind of hysterical and irrational hate and vitriol that the losers — and their media — are dishing up.

Sure, I’ve enjoyed the snappy comments from “my” side of the fence that came up on Twitter. “Breaking News: Vaginas Beat Assholes” by Elayne Boosler totally gets a gold star. But even here, with the word “asshole,” there’s no panic-mongering — which is what so many on the other side have done.

And it continues, post-election, whether in the liberal or right wing media. Esquire (presumably liberal) is running a blog entry, ‘How Can America Pick a Man Like That?’, which lets disillusioned (and seemingly crushed and panicked) Colorado voters in my age bracket (mid-50s) drone on about how now, with Obama re-elected, they WILL go bankrupt, they WILL face greater economic disparity, the WILL stay “stuck.” But nowhere in the article do we read WHY these voters believed that under Romney it would all change for the better — change for THEM, or why, if their business is already failing and clearly headed for bankruptcy, the Obama victory will make that inevitability more inevitable.

Either it’s inevitable or it ain’t, and if it looks 99% certain, no Big Daddy (red or blue) can fix it.

I have compassion for the economic plight and sheer grind that people are in (not doing so well myself), but I don’t understand why articles like this (much less the “worser” stuff on the right) get published. What do they add to the conversation?

Meanwhile, Donald Trump and other insanely rich people who have nothing in common with those disappointed and panicked Colorado voters, get away with pumping out speech that is downright seditious and shouldn’t be allowed to pass unchallenged.

We have hate speech laws, but somehow we seem to have decided that it’s ok to attack politics and elected leaders (POTUSes) and the US Government in any way, shape, or form, as long as it’s “only” speech and it’s done by ridiculously rich bastards (poor people, like nurses, will get nailed). How about we revive sedition laws and make an example of someone like Trump? How would he like that?

The media have a lot to answer for.

The media have created monsters like Trump (or Trump has used media to create himself, even if the hair is strictly analog), and the Colorado voters are consumers of said media. Connect the dots.

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

November 5, 2012 at 2:00 pm | In links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)
  • A 2010 Seed Magazine article about resilience and cities.
    The concept of resilience upends old ideas about “sustainability”: Instead of embracing stasis, resilience emphasizes volatility, flexibility, and de-centralization. Change, from a resilience perspective, has the potential to create opportunity for development, novelty, and innovation. As Holling himself once put it, there is “no sacred balance” in nature. “That is a very dangerous idea.”

    Over the past decade, resilience science has expanded beyond the founding group of ecologists to include economists, political scientists, mathematicians, social scientists, and archaeologists. And they have made remarkable progress in studying how habitats—including coral reefs, lakes, wetlands, forests, and irrigation systems, among others—absorb disturbance while continuing to function.

    New Orleans, however, presents an interesting example to resilience scientists. If a lake can shift from clear to murky, could a city shift to a dramatically different stable state too? If biodiversity in ecosystems makes them resilient to disturbance, could diversity in urban systems serve a similar purpose?

    tags: seed_magazine resilience cities

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