Fuzzy animals and the “red in tooth and claw” set

August 21, 2010 at 11:23 pm | In just_so, victoria | Comments Off on Fuzzy animals and the “red in tooth and claw” set

It would be funny, if it didn’t have the potential for major cock-ups. Here in what we call Greater Victoria, we’ve been inundated by deer and (university) rabbits. And it seems it’s only a matter of time before natural predators move in.

…Or maybe they already have?

Joggers beware: Cougar spotted at Elk Lake (August 21, 2010)

Cougar spotted in Saanich Sunday morning (August 15, 2010)

Cougar spotted near Walbran (July 30, 2010)

Phantom cougars on the prowl (July 29, 2010)

Meanwhile, near downtown, a population of people who are homeless and often drug-addicted and / or mentally ill creates problems of  quite another caliber.

And the deer, rabbits, cougars, crackheads, and stoners – as well as working poor – are all within a radius of one or two miles of one another.

If the cougar is, naturally enough, moving into the city to prey on deer and rabbit populations, who are the hunters preying on the human numbers making themselves so vulnerably available on our streets? Does anyone really think it’s all about middle-class values and “choice“? I live 3 blocks from downtown and have “encouraged” Government House deer to get out of my front garden, just as I’ve had people who are homeless sleep (and make a fire pit) in my garage (when it was still open to the street).

Laissez-faire” sometimes just doesn’t cut it.

Heat waves and ice

August 20, 2010 at 10:16 pm | In health | Comments Off on Heat waves and ice

While the temperatures in my part of the world have plummeted (again), returning us to our usual sweater-weather-on-August-nights, world temperatures overall continue to rise. Here’s a map that shows “global land temperature anomalies for July 2010 from average July temperatures of 1951-1980 – Above-average temps are in red; below-average temps are in blue, while gray areas indicate insufficient data. Image courtesy of NASA-GISS.” Via Mongabay:


As you can see, “my” part of the world (west coast of North America, particularly the Pacific Northwest) is nicely fanned by a cool light blue. Some other parts of the globe are burning up, however (see the dark red/brown/orange).

Folks sweltering in the Northeast should console themselves: the summer highs are barely registering “salmon” (the color). Does that mean it’s not really hot, and that it could be worse?

Nope, it’s hot, but now imagine that it’s 1896 and you’re sitting in a NYC tenement while a killer heat wave strikes the city.

We’re mesmerized by spectacular disasters and think they have to happen with a bang (see my post from yesterday), but then there are the silent (and unattractive) killers that move slowly. In “Hot Time in the Old Town”: New York City’s Deadly Heat Wave of 1896 Edward Kohn describes a ten-day heat wave that descended on New York in 1896. Haven’t read the book (would love to, however), but here’s a point that struck me: in an attempt to alleviate suffering and to save lives, Theodore Roosevelt made the decision to distribute ice to the tenements, a move that Kohn identifies as a first stitch to weave a social net that eventually grew to encompass many more entitlements.

Ice. Imagine that. Not a program, not something in writing. But something as tangible (if impermanent) as ice…

See The Takeaway for an excerpt, and find the book on Amazon here.


August 19, 2010 at 10:06 pm | In advertising, arts, authenticity, brutalism, fashionable_life, ideas, media, style | 1 Comment

Night thoughts about exigency (something I have no time for).

Exigency: An urgent situation …a situation requiring extreme effort or attention. Exigence: demand.

Think child-rearing, perhaps? Think about having hardly any time for yourself, as you prepare yourself to be on constant alert, inbetween the moments that punctuate perpetual vigilance with pure delight? Is it addictive, to live like that? As Perma-Mom or Perma-Dad?

Which brings me to disaster. Why is the idea of disaster so seductive? Is it because it’s over quickly – unlike real life…?

Toward the end of July, NPR’s film critic, Bob Mondello, had an excellent segment, Disasters In Reel Life: It’s About Time (And Suspense). He referred to the “realistic” popular cataclysms dished up by Hollywood, and wondered, “So how come when a real disaster strikes, it feels so different?” One obvious answer is time: in the movies, disaster is fleet of foot (or whatever it is that disasters have, if not exactly feet – legs, maybe?). In real life, on the other hand, there is no suspense to disaster. It’s a drag, not a wild ride.

Then there are the other banal and painful differences: “Disaster movies have characters; real disasters have casualties.” The fictional representations of disaster obey Aristotelian rules about build-ups to climactic events, while real-life disasters mix up that experience. And in disaster movies, you never have to deal with the clean-up…

This might speak to the infatuation with urban apocalypse: it’s a desire to hasten an “end with horror” (versus true – and impossible – reconciliation to the “horror without end”). Check out London After the Apocalypse on Flavorwire: a more nuanced, artistic vision of 2012 or The Day After Tomorrow…? Perhaps we’re to shrink from the oozing decrepitude of Norman Foster’s Gherkin, its normally plump erectitude punctured by what looks like a case of vegetal clap. Maybe we should be awed: when a mighty organ such as this is marred, then it surely is the end.

[An aside, possibly irrelevant: If I had ever met her, I would be able to hear my maternal grandmother’s voice say, Besser ein Ende mit Schrecken als ein Schrecken ohne Ende (“better an end with horror than a horror without end”), a sentiment I always found really alarming and frankly ideologically dangerous (and one my own mother embraced whenever she felt a) depressed or b) manic – like I said, a dangerous idea). But then I didn’t live (and die) my grandmother’s life.]

In this unholy mix of media manufactured fast-forwarding to The End, we see that ecological disaster also has a special role to play: As Bob Mondello put it, “If the Gulf oil spill were happening in a film, you’d see oil-covered polar bears within hours of the Deepwater Horizon’s demise.” Urban disasters are a long-standing trope that goes back to the early days of Industrialization: both the Romantics and Surrealists liked to imagine man-made forms overtaken once again by nature. There’s something satisfying about seeing chthonic nature assert itself against concrete and human-contrived geometries. It’s also nice to think that nature will win, whereby winning means making human squalor and folly seem irrelevant. Unfortunately, that scenario also means everything else human becomes irrelevant – and that’s not an idea I can endorse.

And so we come to fashion, which has to be one of the highest achievements of humanity. (I’m not being ironic, incidentally.) A recent approach (the oil spill shoot in Vogue Italia’s August 2010 issue by Kristen McMenamy, shot by Steven Meisel) has put the Gulf of Mexico/ Deepwater/ BP oil spill front and center in haute couture. But as refinery29.com wrote, regarding the August Vogue Italia photo spread featuring oil-slicked models on the Gulf:

As beautiful and provocative as they are, we can’t help but feel uneasy. Creating beauty and glamour out of tragedy seems quite fucked up to us, not to mention wasteful and hypocritical, seeing as thousands of dollars of luxury clothing was flown in, and then subsequently ruined for the shoot. Glamorizing this recent ecological and social disaster for the sake of “fashion” reduces the tragic event to nothing more than attention-grabbing newsstand fodder. But that’s just us. Do you think this is appropriate commentary, or just tasteless? (source)

Some of the images (very few) are beautiful – most are provocatively horrifying. They’re not easy to swallow, and you have to look long and hard (which is difficult, given the ugliness of the setting) to find the fashion (be sure to view the 11 images in the slideshow).

Horror without end – the models are posing in the thick of it. End with horror? Not practical. As long as humans are around, we’ll never be without fashion (and fashioning) – how could we be? It’s part of our art – we’ve been fashioning since we got kicked out of Eden. Perhaps the question is, if we can’t be without the horror (can’t stop it without ending), can we shake ourselves out of being used to it?

Wisdom? Intact.

August 18, 2010 at 7:15 pm | In just_so | 2 Comments

No blog post about anything much from me tonight: it’s a bit of wackamole time at my house. This morning I took the daughter (16) to the oral surgeon, and after paying over $1972.00, she had all four wisdom teeth extracted. While this was going on, I picked up the prescription the surgeon’s office had faxed to the pharmacy, along with some berries for smoothies. (More on that later…)

Back to the surgeon’s, got the somewhat groggy daughter, took her home.

By the afternoon she was throwing up copious amounts of blood, and whatever thoughts of smoothies were in the back of my …no, our …mind(s) …was puked up. Repeatedly.

Water? Barf. Consomme? Barf. Water? Barf again.

Smoothies? Ahahaha!, barf again. And again.

I don’t know from “wisdom” teeth. Never had any extracted – have none in my lower jaw to begin with, and the ones in my upper jaw never erupted. I did have two extractions, once, when I was nearly 30 – for braces. They were premolars. No big deal – except for my primal Angst about e-x-t-r-a-c-t-i-o-n.

Maybe it would be a good idea if all resource extractors (who take things from the Earth) had to visit the dentist/ oral surgeon first. Just saying. Makes me wonder about having my appendix “extracted” when I was just 18 months old – what lurks in those body memories? Barf-o-rama? Or not? Gut feelings?

Intact. To be intact – such a dream. Wake up to reality, wake up to pain.

Cynicism, laughter, and not enough time

August 17, 2010 at 11:57 pm | In comments, just_so, social_critique | Comments Off on Cynicism, laughter, and not enough time

Davin Greenwell asked me, via comments, to elaborate on yesterday’s blog post, Cynical sex/uality – he posted his comment about an hour after I published my entry, but by then it was past 12:30am and I wasn’t going to stay up to answer.

So, I thought about his question (“I thought about it, but I don’t quite get what you’re saying about Olivia. Can you elaborate?”) on and off today, and had some crazy idea about how I was going to find the time both to respond to it and write a new blog entry tonight.

As it happened, I ran into Davin tonight as I was rushing out to a meeting – and my day had been one of those stupid days of running from one thing to another anyway, with no time for posting any replies (or answering emails or doing other desk-related things), but we had a chance to talk for 5 minutes about cynicism, laughter, and the differences between laughing with versus laughing at.

It’s all still just half-thought-out in my own mind, but after settling down at about 10:30 tonight (post-meeting), I did end up writing a response to Davin’s question. And my post for today is simply going to be a pointer back to my response.

Cynical sex/uality

August 16, 2010 at 11:39 pm | In health, just_so, media, offspring, social_critique | 3 Comments

Interesting article in Macleans Magazine this week: Outraged moms, trashy daughters (How did those steeped in the women’s lib movement produce girls who think being a sex object is powerful?), by Anne Kingston.

On beauty “standards”:

“It’s worse than the 1950s,” says the mother of a 24-year-old, referring to the ubiquity of Photoshop and cosmetic surgery creating beauty standards more unattainable than ever. (source)

Kingston references the work of Susan Douglas, author of Enlightened Sexism: The Seductive Message that Feminism’s Work is Done, who might well be leaning on Peter Sloterdijk’s Critique of Cynical Reason. Sloterdijk explains cynicism as an “enlightened false consciousness”:

…a sensibility ‘well off and miserable at the same time,’ able to function in the workaday world yet assailed by doubt and paralysis. (source)

In other words, enlightened false consciousness (or cynicism) is that awful, gooey, nudge-nudge-wink-wink sort of “enlightenment,” where you get to joke about your chains …because you’ve already given up on ideals like freedom or equality – including freedom from constant “doubt and paralysis” about your looks…

“Enlightened sexism” makes an awful kind of sense in a world already furrowed by cynicism. The seed is easy enough to sow. From Kingston’s article, quoting Douglas:

“Enlightened sexism” is Douglas’s term for this new climate, one based on the presumption that women and men are now “equal,” which allows women to embrace formerly retrograde concepts, such as “hypergirliness,” and seeing “being decorative [as] the highest form of power,” she writes. What really irks her is how a Girls Gone Wild sensibility has been sold to women as “empowerment,” that old feminist mantra. But in this version, men are the dupes, “nothing more than helpless, ogling, crotch-driven slaves” of “scantily clad or bare-breasted women [who] had chosen to be sex objects.”

Douglas says she was inspired to write the book after noticing what seemed to be a glaring disconnect between the prime-time shows aimed at her generation—Grey’s Anatomy, CSI, The Closer, all featuring tough-talking, assured women who don’t use their sexuality to get what they want—and the programming aimed at her daughter. Eventually she came to believe both kinds of shows were perpetuating the myth that feminism’s work was over: “both mask, even erase how much still remains to be done for girls and women. The notion that there might, indeed, still be an urgency to feminist politics? You have to be kidding.” [emphasis added] (source)

There’s a resonance with cynicism in the embrace of “hyper-sexualization” that suggests to me that we’re talking also about economic and class issues, as well as socialized power structures (peer groups), both of which can exert pressures independent of gender issues (even as they’re expressed at that level).

Re. the latter (peer groups): As readers of this blog know by now, I home-schooled my son and daughter (which, depending on your point of view, makes us very odd or puts us at the cutting edge of edu-punking the school system). Both of my kids (aged 19 and 16) are now at university, entering their 3rd and 2nd years, respectively. (That is, they’re not chained to the bed-posts in their rooms, or otherwise hiding or being hidden away from “society” – just thought I should make sure that’s understood…)

And: we also don’t watch TV (except for what we can watch on the internet or rent at the video store – but no cable for us). This cut out two immense forces of peer pressure and homogenization – forces that are often negative. (I’m not a fan of the alleged “socialization” provided by the K-12 factory school setting.) Reading about girls who think it’s ok that MTV uses as promotional material a clip of Snooki (a female participant in Jersey Shore) getting punched in the face by a guy makes me wonder if we’re all living on the same planet. My 16-year-old daughter wouldn’t agree with 15-year-old Olivia, quoted in Kingston’s article:

“It’s so ridiculous, it’s funny,” she says of the show. “I don’t relate that to my life at all. I wonder, ‘Why would you do that?’ But it’s enjoyable to watch.” [emphasis added] (source)

If you think about it, you have to conclude that Olivia is cynical – full of enlightened false consciousness.

And then you have to ask yourself why a 15-year-old girl could be cynical – and what will that look like when she’s several decades older.

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

August 15, 2010 at 2:30 am | In links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)
  • Essay by David Harvey on cities/ remaking the city.
    The question of what kind of city we want cannot be divorced from that of what kind of social ties, relationship to nature, lifestyles, technologies and aesthetic values we desire. The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city. It is, moreover, a common rather than an individual right since this transformation inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of urbanization. The freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is, I want to argue, one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights.

    tags: new_left_review david_harvey cities urbansim

  • Fascinating:
    Today’s playlist is about way-new architecture — using organic forms and living, growing materials to bring fresh life into the buildings, homes and infrastructure we occupy. Magnus Larsson, for instance, has a bold plan to build in the Sahara desert sands using living bacteria:

    tags: ted_conference video architecture magnus_larsson bioneering

  • Toward smart skins for buildings?
    Windows that absorb or reflect light and heat at the flick of a switch could help cut heating and cooling bills. A company called Soladigm has developed methods for making these “electrochromic” windows cheaply, making them more viable for homes and office buildings.

    tags: mit_techreview solar_power eco green_technologies windows

  • Ethan Zuckerman blogged Kate Crawford’s 8/3/10 talk at the Berkman Center. Great points on the history of “noise” and information overload. Seems it’s hardly a new issue, even if the technology keeps changing. Eg.:
    Because we’re negotiating this [constant connectivity] in realtime, there are fears about “network noise” that seem to invoke a “myth of the fall”, positing a period when media didn’t impinge on our time. She cites Jaron Lanier as making this argument in “You Are Not a Gadget” and Giorgio Agamben, who made the case that the mobile phone as reshaping Italian gesture and speech, and homogenizing Italian society. But this isn’t a new problem – she notes that the philosopher Walter Benjamin was complaining about telephones as “uncanny and violent” in 1932.

    The response to these concerns about information overload are well summed up by Clay Shirky’s pithy quote, “There is no such thing as information overload, only filter failure.” There’s a wave of “productivity porn” (using Merlin Mann’s term) like Lifehacker and Getting Things Done that promises to help readers focus. But total focus was never possible, nor desirable. Excesses of information is part of the human experience – no human could have read all the scrolls in Alexandria – and this tension between too much or too little information – between noise and silence – is an old one.

    tags: berkman kate_crawford ethan_zuckerman connectedness mobile_technology socialtheory

  • Umair Haque raises some interesting questions in this piece:
    It’s 2010, and we still don’t know how to describe the archetypal magnates of the next economy. We don’t have a word for it, so we resort to awkward neologisms, like “information entrepreneur” or “green mogul.” It’s as if we’re still not quite sure just what kinds of “capital” tomorrow’s tycoons will be “ists” of. What are the kernels of tomorrow’s prosperity?

    tags: economics harvard_business umair_haque

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

Joy divided

August 14, 2010 at 10:18 pm | In just_so | Comments Off on Joy divided

Today was one of those must-do days that provided no end (and not much of a means), just a glue to help fabricate the fiction of relation between yesterday, today, and maybe (just maybe) tomorrow.

But we’re sure having nice weather for dancing, no matter who’s calling the tune – finally a heat wave in normally chilly Victoria!

A song to get you started: She’s Lost Control by Joy Division (the Red Shoes version, so good…).

Philippe Lucas on Victoria’s Public Market: oh the irony

August 13, 2010 at 10:59 pm | In heritage, johnson street bridge, urbanism, victoria | 2 Comments

Last night I attended PechaKucha Night Victoria (Volume 3), where City of Victoria Councillor Philippe Lucas was supposed to give a presentation about efforts underway to get a permanent covered farmers’ market set up in the city.

Lucas’s perky presentation featured a number of holiday snaps taken in exotic locales where people still eat local food. Those photos were augmented by snaps of his child eating …well, local food. The point, presumably, was to show the importance and significance of local food consumption. Perhaps the inference thereby was also on the importance of local food production, although aside from a shot of a vegetable bed recently planted outside City Hall, I don’t recall that Lucas elaborated.

Admittedly, my attention drifted elsewhere, but then – toward the very end – Lucas at last came around to the topic at hand: a local farmers’ market for Victoria.

And that’s when he did it: he showed a photo of the covered public market we used to have.

Oh, the irony

Why irony? Earlier that day (Aug.12) Councillor Lucas voted to tear down the unique Johnson Street Bridge – because it’s too decrepit and we need something new and shiny to take its place.

But that’s exactly what this city did with its existing Public Market building in the 1960s – and the result was the disaster known as Centennial Square. The city tore down the public market for some of the same reasons it’s now tearing down the Johnson Street Bridge: it was said the building wasn’t up to standards and that it wasn’t being used properly anyway, and that economically it was a failure. But the city had also spectacularly mismanaged the enterprise, and failed to maintain the structure, which fell into disrepair. Its offerings were apparently sub-par if not skanky, with vendors mired in red-tape, to boot. (See Ross Crockford’s excellent June 18, 2008 post, Market Forces, which details the very troubled history of Victoria’s Public Market.)

And then the building itself became an eyesore (now there’s a loaded word, one applied by the haters to the Johnson Street Bridge), and everyone knows that once something becomes “ugly,” it’s easier to argue for its destruction. The word “blight” was freely applied to a structure designed by the same architect who built Victoria’s still-standing City Hall. As Ross Crockford’s article shows, the building was once extremely grand, but the City’s very poor management helped bring it down:

John Teague, the architect who created the 1878-built City Hall, also designed the market. It was a grand, two-storey structure of brick and granite, with a 70-metre-long facade of arches facing onto Cormorant Street (today’s Pandora Avenue). Inside, the main hall had room for 60 stalls and a bandstand, and was surrounded by a second-level gallery, all illuminated by a peaked glass roof. With a gala Christmas party, the Victoria Public Market officially opened its doors in December of 1891.

It was a disaster. As historian Jean Estes noted in a detailed 1975 Daily Colonist article, many farmers were already selling their wares directly to retailers, and avoided the bureaucracy of the city-run market, which was governed by a 67-item bylaw. The city ended up renting stalls to a strange assortment of tenants. One visitor in the late 1890s reported that she saw “a portrait painter’s studio, a real estate agent, the Sanitary Inspector, and the most ghastly of all things – the public morgue was an annex of the market.” (source)

The idea took hold that replacing the old Public Market Building with something new and shiny (a “square” built in accordance with the latest – frankly, bad – ideas of urban renewal emanating from 1960s Great Britain) would somehow be the magic wand to cure downtown’s ills. (See in particular my March 2008 FOCUS Magazine article, Victorian Fables; Does Victoria have an urban planning blind spot? [on Scribd.com].)

Well, razing the “blight” didn’t cure downtown. Centennial Square is awful, …and the Public Market Building is gone forever.

Will the Johnson Street Bridge decision be Act II in the drama called “The Destruction of Victoria’s Urban Character”?

And how can Philippe Lucas not see the irony in the juxtaposition of his morning vote to destroy the Johnson Street Bridge, and his evening bromides about local food consumption and farmers’ markets in Victoria…?

Victoria Public Market, front elevation view

In the picture below, you can see the high arch of the Victoria Public Market’s entry, next to the Fire Department engine bays in front.

1920: The Victoria Fire Department arrayed outside the Fire Hall (Public Market is next door)

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