The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

June 21, 2009 at 2:28 am | In comments, links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)
  • Although not quite (yet) an example of cyber-stalking, I found Victoria Klassen’s description of an online-generated encounter with a person who feels entitled to finger-wag her for some perceived moral or behavioral shortcoming(s) noteworthy because it all happened locally. I’m not sure whether that makes it even creepier or somehow just cozier than being digitally accosted by someone a thousand miles away, but I’m certain it says something about the intersection of “real life” and social media at the local level. At any rate, I left a comment describing my own experiences with people like the “creep” she had to deal with.

    In the end, Victoria’s closing comment is the best answer to those people:
    Bottom line: if you don’t like what I say you have two options: don’t read my stream or this blog, or join the conversation in the open, in the same way as the rest of us.
    Right on.

    tags: comments, victoria_klassen, socialmedia, cyber_culture, stalking

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

Made me comment: Brendon Wilson on Canada and Its Tech Future

June 14, 2009 at 12:19 pm | In arts, business, canada, comments, ideas, innovation, writing | Comments Off on Made me comment: Brendon Wilson on Canada and Its Tech Future

I came across Brendon J. Wilson’s excellent blog post, Does it matter if the future isn’t available in Canada? last week and felt compelled to comment.

Brendon’s post addresses a response to Macleans Magazine’s article You can’t buy that here, which, as he wrote, mirrored concerns he already expressed in a March 2009 post, Borders keep out innovation, too. If you’re Canadian (or maybe thinking of doing business in Canada) Does it matter if the future isn’t available in Canada? and Borders keep out innovation, too are both excellent must-read pieces.

The Macleans article Brendon references had prompted a defense of the Canadian condition by another writer. Brendon’s Does it matter if the future isn’t available in Canada? addresses both positions. He ends in favor of Macleans’, however, and writes that its “attempt to point out how Canada is missing out on the future, however small a piece of it, seems like a valid tactic despite the weakness of its execution.”

I agree, and also left a long comment on his post. I’m using my blog to remind me of what I wrote in response (most of which I excerpt, below), but really encourage people to check out Brendon’s original post(s). My comment (abridged):

I think you get at something very essential with your observations, Brendon, for example when you write about missing “the experience of using the device in your daily life, of truly understanding the implications, applications, and untapped potential of the device” (and while you were talking about the iPhone in that example, I think the point translates across the technology landscape.

It’s conditions like the ones that exists around technology and innovation in Canada that make the issue of Canadian culture so difficult, too, because the words “paternalism” and “tutelage [from authorities on high]” come to mind, not independence, liberation, freedom. And that, too, contributes to the niggling sense of inferiority.

Do you know what the wealthy establishment fathers of Canada told young artists in the Group of Seven (now recognized as the founders of national Canadian landscape painting) back in the early 20th century? “It’s bad enough having to live in this country. Why bother hanging pictures of it up on one’s walls?”

They preferred to collect Old European Masters instead – Dutch landscapes in shades of brown with brown cows. Instead of embracing the innovation that the Group of Seven artists offered, they turned to the past and haughtily told those innovators to learn to paint like the *Old* Masters instead. The innovators wanted to look to other innovators in Europe instead – Cezanne, cubism, futurism, abstraction. But the paternalists knew “better” – and with their “wisdom” helped stunt Canadian culture instead of furthering it. Take a look at the museums built on private collections in the US and you’ll see that contemporary American captains of industry collected European and American avant-gardists, not brown pictures of brown cows. Consequently, American culture benefited from their support, and – as a spin-off many decades later – there are now many seminal collections for the public to enjoy. Canadian collections from that period are small miseries in comparison, and viewing them isn’t nearly as satisfying. That’s how a culture of old-fashioned paternalism (with its flip side of “made in Canada” solutions – the Group of Seven worked often in isolation) has ripple effects that are felt for generations.

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

May 17, 2009 at 8:03 pm | In comments, links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

Below is the Sunday Links post, but before we get to that, here are two blog posts where I left comments recently.

One was Catherine Novak‘s post about the Shoal Point Moka House tweetup two days ago. I mentioned that Starbucks, for example, has policies around filming/ photographing on their premises that make what happened at Friday’s tweetup look benign. We twitterers (admittedly, I didn’t attend this one) can’t assume that we can have tweet-ups any old time any which place, but it sounds like the TV crew didn’t do its homework, either – and given the (in)famous Starbucks policies, it’s by no means a safe assumption that “third places” (coffee shops, for example) should be treated like public places.

The other comment was on Maria Benet’s post at week’s end on her small change blog. She pointed to a terrific article by Daphne Merkin about depression, A Journey Through Darkness (in the New York Times Magazine). Lots to say about that topic; I’ve been on a bender of sadness and self-revulsion lately, although I was starting to feel better. Then again, something happened today to make me …well, not exactly clinically depressed again, but certainly dead up against a wall on which I am so fucking tired of banging my head.

Anyway, two very different topics (tweetups, depression), but both blog entries well worth reading and thinking about in terms of the issues they raise. And now, on to the Sunday Diigo Links Post…

  • Discussion of Freiburg suburb, Vauban, and its “car-free” environment:
    Street parking, driveways and home garages are generally forbidden in this experimental new district on the outskirts of Freiburg, near the French and Swiss borders. Vauban’s streets are completely “car-free” — except the main thoroughfare, where the tram to downtown Freiburg runs, and a few streets on one edge of the community.

    tags: suburbia, cars, green_strategies, vauban, germany

  • Terrific article by Neil Henry, professor and dean of the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley, about the J-School’s initiatives around local news reporting. Focusing on Linjun Fan’s success with Albany Today, Henry explains how the students cover local news and use cutting edge multimedia tools.
    For nearly every story over the next two years, Linjun was first on the scene, using the most highly advanced digital tools to file her work to her site from all over town.

    Most of the time she was the only reporter at any of the events she covered, a stark reality shared by most of her classmates in their own coverage of places as varied as El Cerrito, Emeryville, and West Oakland.
    Today, as they learn multimedia and community-based journalism, so do all of our students practice it, providing fresh content throughout the year to our other thriving digital news sites, Oakland North and Mission Loc@l, which won a national award for Internet excellence recently for its coverage of San Francisco’s Mission District.

    And we continue to grow. In August we will launch a new digital news site devoted to the people of Richmond.
    We want to partner with other local sites run by people similarly committed to covering Bay Area communities. We envision legions of small businesses and other potential advertisers in the Bay Area finding tremendous new audiences through these ties. We are filled with excitement and purpose, fueled by the idealism and dedication of young students who increasingly are showing the way.

    tags: local_news, uc_berkeley, journalism

  • Inaugural issue of the Journal of Information Architecture.

    tags: information_architecture, journal

  • Interesting article about the “dark figure” of crime:
    The problem was first described in the 1830s by Adolphe Quetelet, a Belgian mathematician and sociologist and the founder of modern scientific statistics. The real crime rate, which he called the “dark figure of crime,” could not be revealed by official statistics, he argued: “Our observations can only refer to a certain number of known and tried offenders out of the unknown sum total of crimes committed. Since this sum total of crimes committed will probably ever continue unknown, all the reasoning of which it is the basis will be more or less defective.” The problem has plagued criminology for nearly two centuries.
    The implication is that reports of falling (or rising, for that matter) crime rates aren’t “objective,” since they’re based on “dark figures” which are unknown.

    Interesting conclusion to the article, too:
    The situation in Britain, then, resembles that of 1980s New York, whose crime problems were routinely called insoluble. What the British government fails to understand is that the majority of serious crimes are committed by a small cadre of criminals, who are also, disproportionately, the authors of minor crimes. If you lock these criminals up—reliably, and for a long time—crime will drop precipitously. The reason Broken Windows policing works is not that it is inherently important to jail every petty thug who breaks a window; it is that the window-breakers tend to be muggers, rapists, burglars, and murderers as well. If you get them off the streets, the rate of serious crime will fall.

    tags: crime, britain, city_journal, claire_berlinski, dark_figure

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

Comment on Kevin Kelly’s “4 Arguments Against Technology”

April 26, 2009 at 2:33 am | In comments, ideas, innovation | 4 Comments

I just responded to Kevin Kelly‘s 4 Arguments Against Technology. He’s compiling a list, which he wants to flesh out – so that he can write better arguments in defense of technology. So far he has 1. Contrary to nature; 2. Contrary to humans; 3. Contrary to technology itself; 4. Contrary to God.

I added the following, which (in keeping with the “contrary” theme) could perhaps be dubbed “Contrary to staying the same”:

Another anti-technology argument I’ve sensed is that technology brings change, and therefore is destabilizing. Technology is opposed because, by facilitating change, it appears to destabilize important things like community, shared history, relationships.

“Facilitating change” is another aspect of innovation. We can’t live without it, but people love it and hate it simultaneously.

Why would people be uncomfortable about change? (My field is, loosely, urban ecologies, where the change-hating species NIMBY is well-represented, so I run into the anti-change way of thinking all the time…) I think change swings both ways: toward growth or toward decay. The problem is that we reach a certain age and think we can have stasis (no change). But stasis just masks decay (which is bad change). Of course stasis (masked decay) can look so much more comfy than growth (which takes work, but is good change). Growth or decay, life or death: stasis is not an option.

Biology, perhaps, is nature’s technology?

Technology is a constant reminder (because it facilitates change) of the two options (growth or decay), both of which are painful (although growth is better).

What do you think?

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.

Comment on BC Supreme Court Ruling re. Camping in Parks

October 19, 2008 at 9:43 pm | In cities, comments, homelessness, victoria | 2 Comments

Tim Ayres is a realtor in Sooke, BC, who blogs about real estate and Victoria issues.  I’ve seen his Twitter updates in the Twitter Local Net, but haven’t been following his blog.  The other day, however, I saw that someone I follow on Twitter twittered that he had left a comment to Tim’s video post, Get Ready For The Homeless in Beacon Hill Park [Video], which asked readers what we all think about the “camping in parks” ruling.

For anyone in BC, the recent BC Supreme Court ruling is …uh, significant.  (And for the best local coverage on this question so far, see the Vibrant Victoria forum thread, Homeless win right to camp in city parks.)

I clicked through to Tim’s video blog and posted a lengthy comment.  However, as it appears to be held up in a moderation queue I’m re-posting it on my blog, too (minus some pre- and post-amble…):

The ruling by (BC Supreme Court Justice Carol) Ross is not helpful if it does nothing to bring the various levels of government together to address the problem of homelessness, and I have to voice my disagreement with comments here that the city should be able to fix the problem.

Far from defending our current municipal leadership — because it has been wishy-washy — I would argue, however, that the cumulative effects of off- or downloading by *all* parties at the senior (Provincial and Federal) levels of government has created the mess we’re in now.

By all parties I’m referring to how Paul Martin’s Federal Liberal government really accelerated the downloading of federal responsibilities to the provinces; how our current Conservative federal government, when approached for help with infrastructure in cities — which includes *so* many aspects — reduced the issue to banalities by replying that “the Federal government isn’t in the business of fixing potholes”; how at the Provincial level, we’ve lost mental hospitals to cut-backs, are failing to provide detox.

Most importantly, I’m also referring to how, we, in urban centres, are subservient to rules laid out in a British North America Act that gave Provinces all power over municipalities because cities were considered unimportant, mere entrepots for raw resource export (which is manifestly no longer the case), and how our Canadian Constitution also fails to take into consideration the fundamental importance of cities to 21st century economies.

And yet the problems of homelessness as well as untreated mental health problems and often attendant drug- and alcohol-abuse as well as the criminality associated with procuring drugs (and paying for them, that’s based on crime often enough) aggregate in our cities. These are problems dumped on municipalities, which in turn can’t seem to deal with them. Yes, people are poor and even homeless in rural areas, people become addicts in rural areas, people lose their minds in rural areas. But when they come for help, chances are they’ll migrate to the cities to seek it, expecting services that those cities are increasingly unable to provide because they’re being asked to do too much with too little.

In case you’re interested, a number of months ago I wrote a blog post about off- or downloading and how the spectacle of homelessness is the last link in that downloading scheme, Connect the dots: two articles by Miro Cernetig and Bob Ransford that should be read together.
What I argued was that we citizens are the last link in that chain: the municipalities have dumped the problem on us — and just as the downloading of responsibilities from Feds to Provinces to Municipalities was ill-conceived, downloading to Joe and Jane Citizen is equally wrong.

It’s wrong for the same reasons: if you download responsibilities (which entail fiscal responsibility) without ensuring that the entity you’re downloading to has a tool kit with which to approach the responsibilities, you’re asking for trouble down the road. When Canadian cities were asked to take on the responsibility for the hard-to-house, the mentally ill, and the drug-addicted, the scheme collapsed. Why? Because there’s nothing in Canadian cities’ toolkit to allow them to create the fiscal arrangements to pay for that responsibility. Canadian cities depend on property and business taxes, while all income and consumption taxes go to senior levels of government. Municipalities can’t keep jacking up property and business taxes, unless they want to drive out their most successful members.

I’m not excusing poor leadership at any level of government. But Canada is set up in a very weird way, and it’s not as easy as some would believe to deal with these problems. There are way too many silos and too many policy restrictions on how cities can be pro-active.

What I would like to see (and ask municipal politicians) is “how are you going to be an effective lobbyist for us?” I would ask, “how are you going to break down the party mentality that sets up us-and-them dichotomies?” — something we see far too much of in Victoria, which likes to nurture an NDP chip on its shoulder and complain about the “evil” Liberals. I’d want to know how you (municipal leader) are going to seek out contacts on a personal level, make sure you meet the right people at all levels of government, how you’re going to *schmooze* and wheel and deal, assemble teams, and break down the g-d-damn silos, so we can work toward the common good. I would not want a municipal politician who has lofty ideals and refuses to get his/ her hands dirty by working with “the other side.” I would specifically support politicians who are ready to throw the old partisanship out the window. At least we who are housed still have windows to throw things out of. Let’s use that.

PS: I don’t work in government or have any professional affliliation with policy making. I am passionately interested in cities, though, and write often about Victoria in particular.

I’ve written several other entries related to housing, homelessness, affordable housing, and so on, but the specific entry I cite above (Connect the dots…) is probably the one most relevant to the crisis we’re dealing with currently.

Sometimes I see spots, and they’re granular…

September 7, 2008 at 6:02 pm | In comments | Comments Off on Sometimes I see spots, and they’re granular…

It’s a weird sensation: take a basic idea — but it has to be something big, like …oh, beauty — and then read around in various and different-from-one-another fields, and let the basic idea act like a filter, …or is it like a connector?  Whichever, but you begin to notice basic transferability or kinship between systems.

It’s a heck of a weird feeling, and I wish I could capture it a bit better.  Thinking, and then thinking about thinking…  And then thinking about things.  So much to think about.  I guess that’s what granular can also mean: the occasional move away from fuzzy to something quite a bit more salient?

I had a minor moment or two like that after watching Umair Haque’s Video Response: A Manifesto for the Next Industrial Revolution and left a comment in response.

Referencing it here is a mnemonic for me.  I wish I could do that as easily with the other moments, which happen while I’m out and about, observing something out there, without a free hand to scribble (or type) it out.

Diigo Bookmarks 08/09/2008 (p.m.)

August 9, 2008 at 5:30 am | In cities, comments, links | Comments Off on Diigo Bookmarks 08/09/2008 (p.m.)

Diigo Bookmarks 07/28/2008 (p.m.)

July 28, 2008 at 5:30 am | In comments, land_use, links, urbanism | Comments Off on Diigo Bookmarks 07/28/2008 (p.m.)
  • Dan Bertolet of Seattle-based blog “Huge ass city” spent some time visiting Medfield, Massachusetts (where I gather he was raised). He temporarily renamed his blog “Wee ass suburb.”

    This particular entry looks at two houses — one, the Dwight-Derby house from 1621, the other a 2005 “Extreme Makeover” McMansion. Throughout, I’ve found Dan’s entries really intriguing, but didn’t comment. Today, however, someone commented with “Who gives a flying f*ck about Medfield,” which prompted me to post a comment. Click through to read. I do give a flying f*ck, I guess.

    tags: dan_bertolet, hugeasscity, weeasssuburb, medfield, beverly, massachusetts, comments, history, urban_development

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