5 Tons of Flax

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Archive for the ‘culture’ Category

A train runs through it

Posted by Jon on 1 December, 2007

Street Use is a blog about ways in which people adapt technology (or adapt to technology) in creative ways – ways that are probably not covered under warranty. Usually its posts focus on the wacky – and very clever – things people in developing countries are doing with technology that middle class westerners would never, ever think of. It’s from the same blogger who runs Cool Tools, which is sort of a compendium of products that rock. Think of a mini Whole Earth Catalog done as a blog.

Anyway, here’s a video they had up on Street Use today. I suspect that, whatever the problems these people have (e.g., poverty), single-use zoning laws (or at least their enforcement) don’t rank highly among them. It’s from a Bangkok market.

Posted in culture, technology, urbanism | Leave a Comment »

The “street” in “movements”

Posted by Jon on 13 November, 2007

I happened across a TPM post-and-discussion about a book called The Bulldozer and the Big Tent. Just a run of the mill “democrats need to have clearer principles” blog discussion. One comment (towards the end of the thread) particularly caught my attention though:

You might want to revisit your American history lessons artappraiser, because every major political evolution in America’s turbulent and violent history, from the borning of this nation, to the civil war, to the labor rights and union struggles, to the womans rights movements, to the civil rights movements, to the ending of the Viet Nam war were struggles fought and won by large street movements. The delays are always the result of political or legal processes. With regard to Iraq, and the Bush governments insidious and ruthless nazification of America, – there will be no change in any of these policies through the political or legal systems. The Bush government and the republican reich have total control of both systems, and will not relinquish that control peacefully.

Calling the major movements of the past “street movements” isn’t the way they are typically discussed. “Movements,” yes – but the emphasis on the “street” is usually missing.

I find this interesting particularly because of my love of Jane Jacobs and the resulting fact that I see our built environment as shaping our economic and social interactions. To be more clear: recognizing the “street” nature of historical American movements (and both historical and contemporary movements in foreign nations) brings to light how important are the social connections formed by people in cities and towns which provide the basis for movements to occur. Within car-based culture, lives are atomistic and non-hierarchical, emergent social movements are less likely. In a world where what Jacobs considers “general-purpose public spaces” are designated solely/primarily for automobile use, and in which there is little to no casual public mingling, how do mass movements develop? Moreover, how do they express their power, particularly if they are antagonistic to established powers.

It seems that, in general, they don’t. Actually, we can see movements with real political power today. Considering the Christian Right, for example, it’s obvious that they are based on a social connections formed in public mingling which lend themselves to political mobilization. However, their social web is centered on the church building (parts of the civil rights movement were also church-centered, of course).

With everyone spread out and atomistic, “movements” become diffused and watered down.

Posted in culture, political economy, politics, urbanism | 1 Comment »

Ezra Klein: Generation Overwhelmed

Posted by Jon on 23 October, 2007

Ezra Klein: Generation Overwhelmed

The discussion at Ezra Klein’s blog is about an article on my generation’s apathy/cynicism/etc. I do think that the combination of consumerism and the dramatic expansion in both type and quantity of media is one root cause of the lack of political activism among people I know (and me). Through media, particularly the internet, the flow of data regarding problems is so great that it’s difficult even to keep track of, much less focus on beginning to solve, the various problems in the world. Here’s an off-the-top-of-my-head list of political/social/economic issues that I consider critical or at least very important. Some of these are more specific issues, and some are larger trends that touch on many areas and interrelate. This just makes everything more complicated!:

  • Peak Oil, and the resulting risks of supply shock. Essentially, the entire technological-economic structure of industrially developed societies needs to be fundamentally overhauled. Fat chance. Root cause of much of the war and social injustice on an international scale in this era.
  • Global climate change.
  • Suburban sprawl/Car Culture. Among other results, produces a loss of wilderness and agricultural land in close proximity to urban areas and destroys the social and economic fabric of urban areas.
  • Surveillance culture. The loss of privacy/anonymity in public spaces; the monitoring, by government and commercial concerns, of private behavior (including but not limited to things like warrentless wiretaps and consumer “club cards”).
  • Debt, both consumer and national. Among other effects, large scale debt acts as chains restricting adaptability and freedom to choose new directions.
  • Decline of the Nation-State System. This is a long process and not necessarily bad, in itself, as the nation-state is responsible for much of the suffering in the last several centuries, and for suffering at larger scales. But we are entering a period of increasing social and economic instability as the world shifts to some other method of organization – multiple alternative systems will be competing for dominance. And periods of similar instability in the past have been bloody and unpleasant for all concerned (see, e.g., the 17th century).
  • More specifically, the Decline of the American Empire. The biggest problem here is that no empire I can think of has ever passed away into old age gracefully. See, as a small example, the mindset of all the “viable” candidates for the 2008 presidential election: attacks on Iran (which would make Iraq look like fun) are “reasonable” to consider. More to the point, consider that widespread use of American force, and the expectation that America should and is capable of bending others to its will is, perhaps more than anything except a large campaign chest, the defining criteria of “viability”. Anti-imperialists need not apply.
  • Theocratic and anti-intellectual/anti-rational tendencies in American citizens.

This is a partial list, and I’ll post additional factors and issues as they occur to me, and then perhaps begin delving into them with more detail and structure to my arguments.


  • Soil and water degradation and loss
  • the so-called Culture of Corruption, which is, I’ll argue, far more widespread and pervasive than generally discussed. More broadly, much of American culture today seems to provide incentives for behavior that is counter-productive, destructive and sociopathic.
  • Income and Wealth Gap (and concentration of wealth at the top), now growing towards (if not at already) Gilded Age proportions; economic and power hierarchies more generally
  • Consumerism, as a driving force behind much of these problems
  • Specialization/professionalization/industrialization of more and more of life. Legalization (in the sense of dealing with an issue through law/rulemaking), not the making of something, previously illegal, legal. Related to the tendency of the rate of change to accelerate and everything to grow towards being incomprehensibly complex over time.

Posted in culture, politics, society | Leave a Comment »

Robbery,……… Style | MetaFilter

Posted by Jon on 15 July, 2007

Robbery,……… Style | MetaFilter

Soviet cartoons about robbery in four cultures (America, France, Italy, Russia). Great music, creative retro animation, and a witty commentary on culture and society. I particularly love the French style.

Posted in culture, uncategorized | Leave a Comment »

Posted by Jon on 12 July, 2007

It has become evident, now that I’ve gotten back onto Facebook and other social sites – and begun socializing again in general after a period of “retreat” – that there are all too many pictures of me at parties. A situation such as occurred with the student teacher in Pennsylvania is possible. I will just have to avoid, as much as possible, being forced to work for idiots.

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