Average delusions, Beautiful Delusion

September 30, 2010 at 6:47 pm | In just_so | Comments Off on Average delusions, Beautiful Delusion

Interesting article by Judy Berman on Flavorwire about Laurie Anderson‘s latest project, Delusion <–this link goes to Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM).  See a review of the show in the SFGate here.

There’s a video interview with Anderson (on both the Flavorwire page as well as BAM’s) in which Anderson observes that almost every artist can say that dreams are part of their inspiration. Then she adds:

How does that affect, then, as you’re cooking up these images at night, your waking self? That sense of duality is totally key to Delusion.

Not sure if she meant capital-D Delusion (that is, her show) or small-d delusion (the mental state).

But in either case it’s a provocative thought.



…And, speaking of delusion, as it happens I just bailed early from a lecture by David Korten because I found it too delusional (not to mention patronizing and full of platitudes). I’ve also noticed that my tolerance for walking into a room full of wanna-be world-changers and getting nearly knocked out by B.O. has plummeted about as much as the stock market. My nose, it seems, isn’t delusional at all and can still tell when something is rank.

(Pardon the grumpy and wtf tone, back to more cogent programming tomorrow, I hope…)

Authenticity, sweet confection

September 29, 2010 at 11:23 pm | In authenticity, heritage, land_use, politics, victoria | 1 Comment

Another passage from Erve Chambers’s Native Tours (which I mentioned in Monday’s post) struck me today. I agree with Chambers’s thinking, and want to relate it to the City of Victoria’s maneuverings around heritage and tourism. But first, Chambers (I’ve added several emphases in bold):

We need to ask at this point whether there are any criteria by which we can usefully differentiate the authentic from the inauthentic. From my perspective, any such criteria would have to support the idea that authenticity is possible under the conditions of modernity. I remain unconvinced that the real is a thing of the past, or that the past was at any time more real than the present. Accordingly, my sense of the authentic is that it occurs under conditions in which people have significant control over their affairs, to the extent that they are able to play an active role in determining how changes occur in their actual settings. In this view, all cultures are dynamic by their very nature. Resistance to change is as much an act of deliberateness as is the will to adopt new customs and practices. Authentic cultures might not be able to predict their futures or to act in a wholly independent manner, but they have the wherewithal to play a significant role in participating in these processes that will shape their lives. In this respect, a community that has the ability to decide to tear down all its historic buildings in order to construct a golf course for tourists is more authentic than is another community that has been prohibited by higher authorities from doing the same thing in order to preserve the integrity of its past. This might seem like an extreme example, and its outcomes might not be to our liking. All the same, it reflects upon my suggestion that without significant degrees of autonomy, any notion of authenticity is meaningless. (pp.98-99)

There is always discussion in Victoria about whether or not our tourist image is “authentic.” One way for the city’s politicians and heritage advocates to make the case for authenticity in general (although it’s linked to tourism-authenticity specifically as well) is by promoting the city’s architectural heritage. Since a lot was ripped out in the heady days of “urban renewal” (which lasted well into the 1970s here) we don’t have that much of it left, but we have a few blocks in Old Town and Chinatown where some fine, small old buildings managed to survive. (The fine, large old buildings got the chop and stand no more: they were replaced by not-so-fine, small new buildings. Weird, but true.)

Part of our tourist image is that we’re quaint and 19th century – read: white 19th century, which is further refined to mean British. After all, the city is named for Queen Victoria, who in turn represents an era and a place and an empire. So that’s our tourist image.

Is it authentic? Hardly. The Olde England mythos was fabricated out of whole cloth during the city’s various economic slumps, when some people realized that tourism could save the city, now that sealing and whaling and various other get-yer-hands-dirty industries had dried up.

But our built heritage is supposed to be authentic.

What happens, though, when politicians and planners repress the citizens’ autonomy? As Chambers put it so convincingly: no autonomy, no authenticity

Case in point: the City of Victoria prevented Rogers’ Chocolates from altering its store interior. The Rogers family, owners and generations-long stewards of the heritage building on Government Street, were losing business (mostly from tourists) because their store interior is tiny. They wanted to push one wall back by 6 feet or so, annexing a storage space that lay behind the wall. The interior would have been fully preserved, the moved wall would simply have been moved and the space slightly enlarged.

The heritage advocate politicians went crazy, as did the heritage planners, and the city undertook the unprecedented step of slapping some kind of heritage designation on the building’s interior (this was a first), effectively preventing the owner from making the planned change. The owners in turn took the city to court and won their suit – if I recall correctly, something on the order of $650,000 in damages.

I suppose one could argue that taking the city (us, the taxpayers) to court and getting damages is evidence of lingering autonomy on the part of the heritage business owner. But I’d argue that the city (“higher authority”) effectively denied autonomy (“ability to decide”) to Rogers’ Chocolates, and thereby in one fell swoop ensured that “any notion of authenticity is meaningless” when it comes to the heritage of this building. Because the people who are the stakeholders and who should be able to decide were denied autonomy, the city has made that heritage inauthentic.

Some “higher authorities” seem to like it like that, even though it yields inauthenticity. Personally, I think it’s too high a price to pay.

Worse than Katrina? Anti-density bombs over Detroit

September 28, 2010 at 11:25 pm | In cities, futurismo, land_use, politics, scandal, social_critique, urbanism | Comments Off on Worse than Katrina? Anti-density bombs over Detroit

Caught a Sept.23 post by David Byrne today, Don’t Forget the Motor City (found via a tweet by Richard Florida). Byrne writes:

This is a city that still has an infrastructure, or some of it, for 2 million people, and now only 800,000 remain. One rides down majestic boulevards with only a few cars on them, past towering (often empty) skyscrapers. A few weeks ago I watched a documentary called Requiem For Detroit by British director Julian Temple, who used to be associated with the Sex Pistols. It’s a great film, available to watch on YouTube, that gives a context and history for the devastation one sees all around here. This process didn’t happen overnight, as with Katrina, but over many many decades. However the devastation is just as profound, and just as much concentrated on the lower echelons of society. Both disasters were man-made.

That film Byrne references – Requiem for Detroit – occupied a chunk of my evening. It’s truly haunting – unbelievable, except it’s true. (The link Byrne gives goes to Requiem for Detroit in 10-minute segments; the link above goes to the entire 1hr.16min.45sec. film – not sure how that was uploaded to Youtube, but I hope it stays up).

Byrne includes this photo, a google maps overview of a couple of “city blocks” in Detroit today …no density, hardly any houses (most have been razed, the city is trying to “shrink” itself), a sorry accompaniment to the more frightening destruction that has taken place in other areas:


I believe it was in his 1740 essay The Anti-Machiavel that Frederick the Great wrote that the Netherlands, with its small land mass but large population of educated citizens, was far richer than Russia, with its vast but sparsely populated land mass – a population furthermore kept in servitude and ignorance due to a feudal system that enshrined serfdom.

People – engaged, educated, integrated – matter more than machines or raw land. Looks like land use policies (racist) and factory practices (automobile production) came together to make Detroit turn into 18th century Russia instead of Holland.

authenticity, agency, tradition, community

September 27, 2010 at 11:00 pm | In ideas, just_so | 3 Comments

Just juxtaposing a few things tonight, a couple of quotes that struck me…

For example…

I’m still reading Erve Chambers’ book, Native Tours; The Anthropology of Travel and Tourism, and in the section on “Tourism and Culture” came across this passage (pp.96-97) about tradition and authenticity:

Eric Hobsbawm and Terence Ranger (1983) argue, for example, that traditions are always invented and continually being reinvented. Their approach centers on the agency, or deliberateness, that informs the construction of traditions. Examples of invented traditions associated with tourism abound. The now “traditional’ silver-crafting industries of the Mexican town of Taxco were invented during the 1930s with the encouragement of a visitor from the United States. [further examples] (…) While some observers might find in these cases evidence of cultural fakery, others are just as likely to argue that the origins of particular traditions are much less significant than is the degree to which they become incorporated into distinct cultural identities.

Richard Handler and Jocelyn Linnekin (1984) have contended that our tendency to judge authenticity in terms of the faithfulness by which traditions are passed intact from one generation to another fails to account for the ways in which traditions actually serve human communities. Traditions, they argue, are invariably defined in the present and reinterpreted to meet the ideological needs of the living. The invention, appropriation, and reconstruction of tradition is not a consequence of modernity, but perhaps more nearly a necessary condition for the construction of all human culture. Modernity and capitalism did not create these mechanisms, although they might have helped speed them up and, in so doing, perhaps made them more transparent. This transparency, which serves to render previously implicit cultural traditions more explicit, makes it increasingly difficult to perceive modern tourist images as being “real.” In this respect, Handler (see Handler and Saxon 1988) joins MacCannell in asserting the virtual impossibility of achieving a sense of authenticity in modern times. [emphases added] (p.97)

Also today, I came across an article by Andrew O’Connell in the Harvard Business Review blogs, Sensitive Men: It’s Your Glass Ceiling Too.

Something about O’Connell’s discussion of the agentic mindset – its importance in getting ahead – made me think of Chambers’s analysis. Here’s O’Connell:

A team led by Mark C. Frame of Middle Tennessee State University finds that the higher you go on the corporate ladder, the more you’re among people who put a lot of stock in assertiveness and independence — what psychologists call “agentic” qualities — rather than on such things as caring about others’ feelings.

Get near the top, and people are all about action. Tasks. Results. That, according to Frame and his colleagues, lends “support to the idea that success and upward mobility in corporate environments may require more task-focused behaviors” and fewer behaviors displaying what are known as “communal” qualities.

The findings, based on attitudes data from more than 14,000 people, apply to both men and women. Thus, “it could be that the glass ceiling has more to do with communal versus agentic behaviors than it does with gender,” the researchers say.

In other words, the glass ceiling may be about how you roll, not what sex you are. It may block anyone who places great importance on selflessness or concern for others. Kinda scary, when you think about it.

If you’re a sensitive guy, you’ve probably sensed the presence of this barrier all along. You might even have heard once or twice that you’re “too nice to get promoted.” Yet you know you’d be a better boss than those task-oriented managers, many of whom have zero people skills. (source)

Goal-orientation – even if it’s disguised as communal authenticity – wins out.

Is this surprising? Not at all, …except that we do spend a lot of time convincing ourselves that inner truth, authenticity, and communal values matter more than “getting things done.” Yet the agentic mindset – agency – carries our stories and narratives forward, and we act like that’s a dirty secret.

The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)

September 26, 2010 at 2:31 am | In links | Comments Off on The Sunday Diigo Links Post (weekly)
  • Fungi as gateway species – fascinating.

    tags: mit_techreview video fungi mycelium paul_stamets

  • Tumblr founder David Karp explains short-form blogging and how Tumblr competes with Facebook and Twitter.

    tags: tumblr david_karp socialmedia mit_techreview video

  • Video of a presentation by John Cleese on the role of one’s subconscious mind in creativity, and the importance of being able to structure boundaries of time and space in order to tap into creative imagination.

    tags: john_cleese video creativity imagination

  • Excellent summary of some of the issues around online privacy, transparency, and – lately – re-anonymization. Interesting roadblocks ahead, too:

    However, there are powerful opponents to this kind of anonymity software, and they aren’t online advertisers; they’re security agencies. Simply put, the same technology that allows people to maintain their privacy online also makes criminals tougher to catch. As such, there is a push to limit anonymity on the Web.

    A perfect example is Research In Motion’s BlackBerry. For years, big businesses have purchased the devices in droves because of their strong encryption, which makes messages sent from BlackBerrys much more difficult for outside parties to monitor. But now, a host of countries are threatening to ban BlackBerry services precisely because RIM keeps the data too private.

    tags: globeandmail privacy online_privacy canada internet

  • Can’t remember how/why I came across this article, but Faruk Ates has an interesting perspective:

    Google’s design process—if you can call it that—revolves entirely around engineering-driven solutions and something I will call “data thinking”: present the problem as a mathematical formula like any other, come up with systematic solutions that attempt to solve the problem and its various “problem components” (think individual UI buttons, copy text, visual design and so forth), then employ testing until a final result is produced. We know this is their process from their own words, but the point was long made clear by Doug Bowman when explaining his departure from Google.

    What’s pointedly missing from Google’s approach is the human factor: there is no empathy in the process. It lives or dies entirely by the “sword of data” (Doug’s beautifully apt words, not mine), and while that can be a recipe for success—Google is doing quite well in the market—it is rarely a recipe for beauty, taste or comfort. It’s a cold process, almost entirely devoid of any humanity, precisely because it produces results that lack a human touch. There is no personal identity in the end result, because “data” is not a person.

    tags: design design_thinking faruk_ates google

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

Eschatology? Please just say no.

September 25, 2010 at 11:09 pm | In authenticity, creativity, ideas | 3 Comments

Had coffee with Elisa Yon this afternoon. We talked about a bunch of things, including her great experiences so far at Emily Carr University of Art & Design. As we talked about individualism and society (among other things), I tried (but failed) to remember the name of a French psychoanalyst whose book had impressed me mightily a couple of decades ago.

I got home and – googling to the rescue – found the information I sought: I was recalling Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel. The book I read was Creativity and Perversion. I liked it.

Usually, I’d link to the Wikipedia page of someone like Chasseguet-Smirgel, but her page is such a hatchet job that I won’t bother. Seriously, Wiki people? You think her biggest accomplishment was pissing off leftist Lacanians and intellectual anarchists? Oh, come on…

Every once in a while, I lull myself into believing that we’re beyond that sort of bullying. But then I turn around and realize, “nuh-uh, we’re not.” The bullying I refer to is the Left vs. Right nonsense that partisan diehards like to dish out.

It seems Chasseguet-Smirgel called bullshit on masturbatory anarchism (or self-indulgent anarchism, choose your label), and for this Deleuze and Guattari of Anti-Oedipus fame gave her a smack-down. (Ok, here’s a link to her Wikipedia page.) Yes, I’m being harsh – but eschatologists who think that liberation lies in anarchy, or people who are so damn sure of the telos that they actually believe they know just what the future holds (excuse me while I gag): these people drive me crazy, and I include anyone of any political stripe in my no-go zone.

Co-incidentally, I happened to watch Steven Pinker‘s brilliant talk, A History of Violence (don’t have a direct-direct link – just click through on the second link and look for Pinker in the line-up: he’s the handsome curly-gray-haired guy with the bright green tie).

And somehow, what he had to say made me think that Anti-Oedipists and anarchists were off on a tangent and Chasseguet-Smirgel was more on track all along.

(To be continued.)

Dirty Wall Project: slums and cities

September 24, 2010 at 11:59 pm | In cities, guerilla_politics, housing, ideas, innovation, land_use, local_not_global, philanthropy, street_life, urbanism, victoria | Comments Off on Dirty Wall Project: slums and cities

I saw an amazing photograph in the temporary gallery Ryan Kane of the Dirty Wall Project has set up on Fort Street.

The photo is one of many that Kane is selling to raise funds for his venture: it’s a flat, saturated, picture-edge-to-picture-edge frontal view of one small piece of a slum in Saki Naka bordering the rail line. Its complexity makes Where’s Waldo look minimalist.

Monday Magazine published an interview with Kane last month. An excerpt from the introduction:

You’ve heard of guerrilla gardening and guerrilla marketing, but what about guerilla volunteering? The concept to “see a need and fill it” without worrying about paperwork, bureaucracy or religious bias is exactly what 28-year-old Kane Ryan strives to do with his one-person, not-for-profit organization called the Dirty Wall Project. Ryan just recently returned from India where he was working in the slums of Mumbai, organizing health camps, distributing tarps for the monsoon season, funding emergency surgeries and building a school for the children living in the Saki Naka slum community, among other initiatives. All of the money he raises—75 percent of which comes from here in Victoria through fundraising events, private donors and by selling his travel photography—goes directly to the Dirty Wall Project. Ryan pays for his own travel, food and accommodation out of his own pocket by working odd jobs during the months he returns to Victoria. The Dirty Wall Project is proof that one person can indeed make a difference. (source)

If you’re in Victoria, make sure you get to 977A Fort St (formerly Luz Gallery).

I can’t find an online version of the photo that grabbed my attention this afternoon. Here’s a substitute, which hints at the complexity:


Visit Ryan’s site, or check out his photo book, Dirty Wall Project (on Blurb). See a need and fill it, make a donation.

My second evening at Toastmasters

September 23, 2010 at 10:47 pm | In just_so | Comments Off on My second evening at Toastmasters

I dragged myself out the door tonight, wishing I could avoid the rain and just veg out – I almost didn’t go. But in the end I did, and now I’m glad I didn’t shirk the commitment off.

Watching some of the more seasoned Toastmasters underscored my earlier insight (that just sitting at a keyboard isn’t going to cut it – d’oh). Get up and just do it.

I’m beginning to think that this might be a bit like going to the gym: even if you really do not feel like it, you should do it anyway. Mental work-out with body in play. Beyond the comfort zone.

Barney Oldfield’s Spirit of Tomorrow

September 22, 2010 at 9:41 pm | In just_so, vancouver_island, victoria | 4 Comments

I saw the Spirit of Tomorrow sitting in a driveway today.

It was designed and built by Horace Basil (“Barney”) Oldfield between 1938 and 1942. (The Spirit of Tomorrow website notes that Johnny Norton and Barney’s brother Brian were co-builders.) I saw the car today at the home of Barney Oldfield’s relatives – and also learned about the house he built: a rotating house, with a central shaft that carries the utilities (in …and out). Apparently, the house still turns, provided the grass underneath is mowed.



Sitting in a driveway in Saanich just outside of Victoria, there it was, the Spirit of Tomorrow, fresh as anything.

Without a doubt the most amazing (and amazingly weird looking) automobile I’ve ever seen. Click through on the photo (or here) for more photos of the car.

For a more detailed overview, visit The Spirit of Tomorrow website.


PS/Edit: I’ve changed the photos link to go a set I created on Flickr – it seems some people were getting a log-in prompt when they hit Picasa. Hope this helps.

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