Rooflines

May 4, 2010 at 10:00 pm | In architecture, cities, victoria | Comments Off on Rooflines

Earlier today my husband pointed me to Jets Overhead‘s music video “No Nations” after reading Tim Bray’s post about the band. I really liked the song and will probably explore more of their music, which they offer via a Creative Commons license on their website.

But what really struck me about the video were of course the city scapes – the video was shot in Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenzhen. (You have to know that Jets Overhead is from Victoria, which is not known for a high-rise skyline… ;-))

Anyway, here’s a screen shot from the music video at 2 minutes 27 seconds, which captures the rooflines of two impressive buildings:

~

Fabulous.

Windspill

May 3, 2010 at 11:16 pm | In green, NIMBYism, power_grid | 2 Comments

When the oil spill disaster in the Gulf of Mexico began, I noticed some bittersweet satirical tweets reporting a windspill. For example, five days ago: “Hope u r ready to help clean up the inevitable windspill. :)” Or, three days ago: “BREAKING NEWS: Massive Windspill at WIndfarm… Residents complain about the breeze!”

By yesterday, Daily Kos published a “windspill” satire, and by today “windspill” made it to The Huffington Post: “BREAKING: Large Air Spill At Wind Farm. No Threats Reported. Some Claim To Enjoy The Breeze. (PICTURE)

It’s one of those satires that’s truly mordant. If only, if only…, we think, as the #oilspill disaster also known as #fuckbp spreads.

But why don’t we have a windspill “disaster”? Wouldn’t it be a stroke of luck, …instead of the mess we really have?

On April 29, Sarah Green, associate editor at the Harvard Business Review, posted From Oil Spills to Wind Farms, From NIMBY to BANANA. In her article, she gets to the heart of that question by pointing to NIMBYist (or BANANAist) obstructionism.

(If you’re not familiar with the acronyms, NIMBY stands for “Not In My Backyard” and BANANA stands for “Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anybody [or Anything].”

Green describes the attempts to get wind farms built near Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket, both of which depend heavily on tourism. For the past ten years, residents and other stakeholders have blocked the construction of wind farms, arguing that they’ll destroy the ambiance.

Energy, it seems, is something we can get elsewhere, from a wall socket or from petroleum that’s extracted (and refined) far, far away (in someone else’s backyard…). At home (in our backyard), we can maintain the status quo. The latter may be completely artificial, but it’s familiar and therefore comfortable.

Green asks:

So how will the energy industry — and the rest of the economy, which relies so heavily upon it — move forward when citizens seem determined to maintain the status quo? Politican after politician has espoused the need to create green jobs to revitalize the American economy and put it on a path to the future. The pages of HBR, among many others, have pointed to the necessity of building sustainable businesses to remain competitive in a world where companies will increasingly have to pay the costs of what were once dismissed as “externalities.” But as the local case study of Cape Wind makes all too clear, knowing that something is an economic necessity is very different from actually embracing it when it shows up on your own shores. (source)

Given what the Gulf residents will have to embrace when it shows up on their shores, maybe opposition to the construction of alternative power sources will soften.

(PS: I’m writing this on yet another day with wind warnings in effect for Southern Vancouver Island. While it’s always windy here, the past six weeks have been especially unrelenting. Earlier today, I posted a tweet with the hashtag #surrenderdorothy: it’s so harsh, I expect to see angry flying monkeys sweeping by, ready to take a swipe at us for not harnessing our wind energy here. What’s stopping us?)

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

May 2, 2010 at 2:30 am | In links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)
  • A somewhat horrifying account by Bruce Katz on the fractured state of jurisdictional / municipal / state government in the US – and I thought the balkanized nature of our local (Victoria BC) government was bad! Katz lays out the benefits (such as they are) that come with intense localism, but his analysis of the drawbacks (far more numerous) really makes the case for amalgamation:
    QUOTE
    There are benefits associated with intense localism. Citizens feel a closer connection to their local officials (although does anyone really know the boundaries of their local library district?). And, in theory, individuals and firms can shop around for the government that most closely matches their preferred mix of efficiency, service and taxes.

    Yet the drawbacks of fragmented governance far outweigh the benefits.

    Fragmentation keeps government weak. With the landscape chopped into thousands of municipalities and special bodies, most local governments remain tiny, nearly amateur concerns, unequal to the widening challenges of global competition, suburbanization, revitalization and economic development.

    Many states are bedeviled by what David Rusk, the former mayor of Albuquerque, N.M., has called a crazy quilt of “little box governments and limited horizons.” In geographical terms, little boxes ensure that in almost every region scores of archaic boundaries artificially divide areas that otherwise represent single, interrelated social, economic and environmental communities. Such divisions complicate efforts to carry out cross-boundary visioning, plan cooperatively or coordinate decision-making across large areas.

    At the same time, with the vast majority of municipalities essentially small towns, many if not most have limited tax bases and struggle to provide even the most basic services.

    Little box governments create a problem of scale. More and more the geographical reach of local and metropolitan challenges exceeds the reach and capacity of its governmental machinery. UNQUOTE

    tags: amalgamation, wsj.com, metros, bruce_katz, local_government, governance

  • Jim Luce looks at the work of Florie Brizel and her research into mobile telephony. Below, a quote from Brizel:
    QUOTE
    “Umbilical cords are the lifeline between infants and their mothers,” Florie said. “Power cords became the new umbilical cords, keeping us connected to our computers. Mobile technologies dispense with cords altogether.

    “It’s only a matter of time before cell phones go solar, batteries die out, and power cords will be history. It is this untethered freedom and how we assimilate mobile phones into our daily existence that fascinates me. I want to be a part of the ‘new’ world developing before our very eyes.”
    UNQUOTE
    The article also touches on Palomar5 and Kosta Grammatis.

    tags: huffington_post, jim_luce, florie_brizel, palomar5, deutsche_telekom, mobile_technology, telephony

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

On synthesis, simplification, compartmentalization, comfort

May 1, 2010 at 11:42 pm | In ideas, just_so | 2 Comments

Theodor Adorno strongly influenced my approach when I worked on post-World War II German art (specifically, West German abstract art). I was quite surprised recently to be reminded of him while reading Roger Martin’s business book, The Opposable Mind. I mean, Adorno and business? Really?

On p.102-3 of my book, Reconstructing the Subject; Modernist Painting in Western Germany, 1945-1950, I struggle with a critique of synthesis and how it relates to stylistic choices painters made in that place and time. Synthesis was a big deal for many German artists after the war, and in the section I quote here, I started to get into its ideological character:

This talk of synthesis [by Western German artists of the immediate post-World War II period] proved false and disingenuous, however, for consciousness was merely flattering itself by “synthesizing” what it had separated conceptually in the first place. Concepts invariably and unavoidably reproduce the difference between thought and what is thought, but the dream of synthesis – and liberalism is always haunted by it – is an idealism that refuses to analyze this fact.Fear is the driving force behind this drive toward desire for identification and homogenization. Adorno theorized that historically this fear derived from the threat nature represents for unprotected man: the desire to be safe from harm produces an intolerance of that which escapes control, of that which is different and which may threaten. Available social theories prove incapable of coming to terms with the consequences of identification, in part because they also misperceive the radical potential of Romanticism: “Even the theory of alienation,” – a key social theory of the late 19th and 20th centuries – “the ferment of dialectics, confuses the need to approach the heteronomous and thus irrational world – to be ‘at home everywhere,’ as Novalis put it – with the archaic barbarism that the longing subject cannot love what is alien and different, with the craving for incorporation and persecution. If the alien were no longer ostracized, there hardly would be any more alienation.” Thinking, conceptualization, is dual, is split, despite its attempts to claim totality, to ingest “the Other.” Both subject and object are conceptual abstractions.

A little further down, another Adorno quote: “Consciousness boasts of uniting what it has arbitrarily divided first, into elements – hence the ideological overtone of all talk of synthesis. It serves to cover up an analysis that is concealed from itself and has increasingly become taboo.”

Martin, on pp.75-77, gets into “Simple Comforts,” which describes our ability to separate things out into neat compartments and accept what he calls the “factory setting” that lulls us into thinking that a given model of reality is the only possible reality.

In every domain, human beings gravitate toward simplification and specialization. We do so, says Stanford management theorist Jim March, because we live in a dauntingly complex and ambiguous world, full of causal inconsistencies. (…) Our reaction to …baffling turn of events is to simplify and specialize. “Organizations,” he says in an article with colleague Daniel Levinthal, “seek to transform confusing, interactive environments into less confusing, less interactive ones by decomposing domains and treating the resulting sub-domains as autonomous.”

That’s the part that called Adorno to mind. What Martin describes struck me as a flip side of the synthesizing drive critiqued by Adorno. The business person breaks the complexity down into component parts, and if his or her mind isn’t particularly creative, s/he continues to see those pieces in isolation, never realizing how they fit together or how they’re capable of leveraging one another into something new. The fantasist-creative type, in turn, might believe that s/he is synthesizing the pieces into a whole – but it might be the old whole.

That is, s/he hasn’t created anything new or innovative, and has instead put something together that the mind (her mind?) separated in the first place. The result is nothing new, just something comforting (and ideological). Does that make any sense? (Remember, this is my blog, and I’m thinking out loud here…)

Could one say that the real trick is in (1) being aware that you are the one who’s pulling the insanely complex whole apart, cherry-picking to begin with what appear to you to be salient pieces (and that you’re doing so for reasons of simplification and personal comfort zones); and (2) avoiding a subsequent simple synthesis (think of gluing Humpty Dumpty back together: boring, that’s just a “fixed,” but still same-old – and cracked – Humpty) by instead putting the pieces “together” in an altogether new way; and (3) acknowledging the artificiality of your construction?

I’m just wondering.

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