Depressing essay, surface the myth-masked system

Via Clusterfuck Nation by Jim Kunstler : Oh Six

You can only introduce so much perversity into an economic system before distortions cripple it. From 2001 through 2005, consumer spending and residential construction had together accounted for 90 percent of the total growth in GDP, while over two-fifths of all private sector jobs created since 2001 were in housing-related sectors, such as construction, real estate and mortgage brokering. Much of the money spent did not really exist except as credit — incomes as yet unearned, hallucinated liquidity, wished-for wealth, all based on the expectation that house values would continue to rise at 10 to 20 percent a year forever.

Pretty depressing, but very interesting, especially in the comments about how the economic / energy crisis links to an American cultural mythic pattern:

This housing bubble economy represented, holistically speaking, the wish to maintain a sense of normality in American life, under conditions of disintegrating normality, and it is no symbolic accident that it centered on the images of hearth and home, because fundamental comforts were what many Americans actually stand to lose in a reality-based future.

Don’t forget to privatize the works that work

Via Crooks and Liars, “Video of Random Shootings in Iraq“:

“The video has sparked concern that private security companies, which are not subject to any form of regulation either in Britain or in Iraq, could be responsible for the deaths of hundreds of innocent Iraqis.”

I didn’t think to add privatization as the next step after militarization, a slide from public agency through militarization to privatization. When the conversation is about public agencies competing against private companies what is meant is that there’s no profit for private entities. The tricky part is that one of the advantages of a public agency is that it does not have, or should not anyway, a profit motivation. The public agency has the luxury of being able to offer services that do not become profitable and even run in the red. So, when a public agency is condemned for not being economically efficient, that is exactly the reason that the service should stay in the public. When this service is privatized, the profit motive means that the service will have a doubly decreased budget – first the red must be absorbed and then the black must be appropriated for profit.

So, where an agency cannot be privatized, it is restructured to operate like a corporation. When that fails, the straw man of intrinsic failure is raised as a motivation to militarize or privatize the services. Reminds me of the strategy that I’ve identified previously in the way that Microsoft implements standards.

Militarizing disaster responses through corporate restructuring

I watched the Frontline about Katrina response and it appears pretty damning. Not only is the corporate takeover fatally flawed, but the corporate partisans are inept.

I’ve long thought that due to the delay between social movements and the appearance of adherents in the political system that we have entered the time when the yuppies and corporate raiders have taken office. It’s the morally bankrupt hostile cocaine culture that is now in power. The frame of government as corporation is showing itself to be a deadly filter. I’m not entirely comfortable with the assessment by Jane Jacobs of what happens when commerce and politics are mixed in her work Systems of Survival but that certainly comes to mind.

The current administration hates government that they do not benefit from. Frankly, I think they think they hate all government, but they love using the government for their own purposes. This creates a situation where policy is antithetical to the political goals of those in power. For example, nonspecific funds distributed under the label of homeland security becomes a massive corporate welfare check to industry involved in security technology. These security technology companies are vastly entangled with the military-industrial complex that has sought out a diversification during the cold war and in advance of what they feared most: the peace dividend. If government wasn’t spending on military, then they would lose their favourite teat.

A thought that occurs to me is that the reason that the corporate raiders are so hostile to FEMA as a functioning professional organization is that by gutting it and moving under homeland security FEMA becomes more militarized. They’ve been moving everything under the overall umbrella of the military-industrial-oil complex.

the throw-away minimal-use trash heap – new and improved!

Via Communication Nation, “Are you sick of hearing about it?“:

“The very notion that you can slap a brand on nearly anything and that will change it for the better seems ludicrous. How’s this for a notion: Make better products!”

David Gray, over at XPLANE, wrote today that he’s tired of hearing about re-branding and suggests, instead, that companies focus on better product. It occurs to me that branding is the last recourse for companies that have lost the ability to innovate their product any longer, or that the product lasts longer than the company hopes people will re-purchase the product. So, without the ability to offer new features and a product that actually lasts, the only option is to re-brand the product. So, re-branding is a way to shorten the delay between the initial purchase and new purchases of the product.

The other option, which I think is worse, is to make the product just another addition to the throw-away minimal-use trash heap, where the consumer has to constantly re-purchase some component of the product.

I think the focus on re-branding is an indicator that the products are better than they were. Otherwise the company wouldn’t need to work so hard to get people to re-purchase. The trick is not to get caught up in that cycle. Re-branding, therefore, is a symptom. If the company weren’t re-branding, they’d likely de-value the product in some way to make it disposable.

Branding is the post-modern version of innovation in the physical product, I suppose. Since it just isn’t possible to offer the kind of magical product that people have been led to expect from post-industrial space-age technology, the brand is the only place where this can be created.

Instead of making better products, and instead of working on brand, we need to culturally re-frame what a desirable product is, and the economic model that surrounds those cultural assumptions. Trustworthy technology that lasts and works is desirable, not the wizz-bang that fizzles out.

Utilities and large companies, sittin’ in a tree …

Apparently, the utilities are letting some of the bigger companies in on a secret, which impacts the high tech hosting and NOC businesses in a major way:

“The utilities are bracing companies for price spikes this winter and … those prices aren’t going to come down any time soon.”

But that’s interesting to note for everyone, I would think … excepting for the panic, perhaps?

Time to buy thermals?

This is a side effect of the oil prices, of course, primarily.

But this likely means that just about everything will become more expensive, especially food over the winter.

Time to start growing mushrooms in the basement as a food source that doesn’t need sun for a winter crop?

Community Values Act

This was discussed last night. Also discussed was an issue with the port lease of space, and an potential increase of over 100 trucks DAILY to the port carrying logs.

What if the city bought westbay, and traded with the port to reclaim the peninsula for town? Likely very controversial for the property owners on westbay that have speculated on owning that property … but traffic could be directed from the port directly down the old railway to 101 and 5 as a bypass that would not touch city roads much. A con is that it would pass by the new walking path / park. Some way to reclaim the peninsula by finding a new location for the port seems like something to talk about.

The Community Values Act

The trials of the Hundred Mile Diet.

Via Cascadia Scorecard Weblog, “Survive Locally“:

Of a vegetarian diet comprised of foods only found within 100 miles:

“It turns out it’s both difficult and expensive. Local grains don’t exist, except for a few heritage grains. Yes, there are local free-range cows and chickens, but the animals are raised on non-local feed. In summer, BC’s abundant farmer’s markets serve them well, but many of the supermarkets still sell much shipped produce, except for, say, local organic salad mix at $17.99 a pound. Summer, of course, only lasts so long.

And here’s the kicker: Vegetarianism doesn’t work well because soy isn’t grown locally. So they’re forced to ask this question: ‘Does vegetarianism fit into a local, sustainable diet?’ And the answer isn’t clear at all.”

Soy isn’t really a show-stopper, but it’s a big part of the protein intake of most vegetarians these days. Other alternatives are plentiful, but are they plentiful within 100 miles of one’s residence?

Every capitalist is a critic …

Via, “Florida Wal-Mart Pulls Newspaper, Wants Journalist Fired“:

“kathleen writes: ‘Florida’s Pensacola News Journal will no longer be sold at the local Wal-Mart. Editor Randy Hammer noted: ‘Some managers at Wal-Mart didn’t appreciate a column Mark O’Brien wrote in June 2005 for the Pensacola News Journal about the downside of the cheap prices that Sam Walton’s empire has brought to America… The Wal-Mart manager said he and his stores couldn’t tolerate a newspaper that would print the opinions of someone who was as mean and negative as Mark O’Brien… and he wanted the newspaper to get its racks off Wal-Mart lots. But he also said that if I fired Mark, we could talk about continuing to sell the newspaper at his stores.

The article itself, available here, points out that communities are forced to pay for Wal-Mart health care via taxes because employees are unable to pay. This is an externality that Wal-Mart has managed to transfer to the public. Because that cost is delayed and distant from the price tag on the goods in the store, the public generally fails to recognize that these are connected.

Dystopian mobililty

Via Synergic Earth NewsFuture Cities

“Dystopic pockets of inequality and dirt inhabit the not so shiny bits. Ask a gathering of leading thinkers in the worlds of architecture and design, and you get a rather different picture. Some 70 million people a year migrate from the country to cities. That is about 130 a minute, says Robert Neuwirth, author of Shadow Cities. Many of these set up home in squats, put together from scarce materials, if put together at all. There are a billion squatters in 2005. By 2050, that figure will reach three billion. At this rate, our future cities may turn out to be quasi-temporary, low-tech shacks, missing the basics of human life, such as water and electricity, still belching out the waste of fuels that warm the globe.”

That’s a mighty number of squatters. The article continues with a typical McDonough story about ecologically sound future development. That’s not to say that the notion of a living city should be ignored. I mostly agree, but there’s something persistent about the presence of squatters.

The area that used to be SoDo in Seattle, which I suppose now is SoStad or something, was the home for a very large Hooverville, so large they, apparently, formed a union in order to represent themselves to the government.

I just re-watched Blade Runner. In the graphic novel Fray, by Joss Whedon, there’s the division of upper and lower cities which I clearly remember from The Fifth Element, also.

What is it here? In Barbara Erhenriech’s Nickel and Dimed, I started to see the way in which property ownership was being heavily eroded in the class of economically challenged. Some even taken to live in motels because they were unable to make the kind of financial leap to renting a space for real. So, there’s contingency workers living in contingency spaces.

Corporations, mostly hiring temp or contingency workers, have contingency buildings. Instead of owning or building, they lease space. They could dissolve, in a flash, into just a holding company, perhaps.

I wonder, sometimes, if the future of the city isn’t to embrace, even more, this notion of contingency living in some fashion. I wonder what that future would look like that embodied a mobility so uncertain. Is this the future of Snowcrash where Hero lives in a storage shed? Or, is it a cyclical return to the migrations of hunter gatherers in a future where income and work and life are once again variable to seasons and luck?

Reminds me, also, about a Zine I used to have, and may still have, that outlined how to squat. It actually included information about squat toilets too.