How Green Was My Lawn

The NY Times has an OpEd on how we need to enlist the suburbs in the fight against climate change: How Green Was My Lawn (not very).  The author notes that the environmentalist movement of the 1970s arose largely from within the ranks of the suburbanites, and that the modern climate movement does itself no favors, politically, by consistently pointing its many fingers at the sprawling, car and oil dependent developments in which many to most Americans live today.  No doubt.  Unfortunately, the persistence and proliferation of suburbia precludes so many cheap and effective means of reducing emissions that it’s insane to take it as a given.  It’s not just oil for the cars.  It’s the need to go far, and go fast, in a large private vehicle, regardless of what it runs on.  It’s the expense of making suburban homes a factor of 10 more energy efficient compared to doing the same with row-houses that share walls.  It’s the inability to share almost anything in a suburban context — the per-capita need for stuff is enormous when you have to own it all instead of accessing it as a service. It’s the unnecessarily vast amounts of concrete, steel, asphalt and copper in all the infrastructure required to support those dispersed dwellings.

And all for what?  To support a transient cultural expectation.  A particular ephemeral vision of affluence, which is itself largely born of government subsidies of and mandates for the creation of sprawl over the last 60 years.  A century from now, if we successfully meet the climate challenge, we’ll look back at how we made a fetish of the single family home with the three car garage, and lump it in with the widespread use of DDT that inspired Rachel Carson, or the cancer-causing X-ray machines we used to have in shoe stores, or the way Victorian women would wear corsets so tight they couldn’t breathe, even sometimes having a couple of ribs removed to enhance their narrow waists.  Suburbia is a fad, a phase, a peculiar addiction with very serious side effects that we can no longer ignore.  It may be politically inconvenient, but the imperatives of the suburbs are almost entirely at odds with the imperatives of addressing climate change, and you cannot argue with the sky.

The collapse of the Soviet Union and the crisis of the Western welfare state

A great little thought from Nils Gilman on the consequences of the collapse of the Soviet Union for the Western welfare state.  Broken and horrible though it was, the Soviet Union served western socialism by framing the discussion.  Losing the “hard-left” peg for our Overton Window on social programs has led the entire discussion to slide quite a bit to the right.

Corporate Spy Agencies and NGO Spies

A vast signals intelligence industry exists, and will sell its wares (including satellite data interception and undersea fiber-optic cable tapping) to any and all comers.  Ironically, they were infiltrated by agents from Privacy International, a London-based NGO.  Apparently the industry isn’t yet using its own technology to defend against critics.  One has to wonder how long that situation will last.

California Dreaming

An hour long interview based documentary by some Dutch filmmakers about the changing social and economic realities of southern California, in the wake of the financial crisis, and America’s general malaise.

It’s dangerous to cling to an identity which is no longer compatible with reality.  Remember the Norse and their Greenlandic colonies.  In the long run I think adaptability is the greatest kind of power you can wield.  Evolutionary power.

We need, in so many ways, to move beyond thinking of ourselves as consumers, instead of citizens.  Consumers, instead of producers and creators.  Society and culture are almost infinitely flexible, if you’ve got the right mindset and a reason to change.

High-Tech Flirting Turns Explicit

High-Tech Flirting Turns Explicit.  Virtually all the damage resulting from “sexting” is done by the law, not the digital nudity.  Eighth graders get naked.  With each other.  Theyve been doing this for a long time actually.  And unlike getting pregnant at 14, having some nude pictures floating around is only serious if we choose to make it serious.  It wasn’t so long ago that that was the age when people started getting married, after all.  Instead of destroying their lives by registering them as sex offenders and trying to scare the other teens, why not accept it and change our norms surrounding nudity?

For Richer or for Poorer: How Much is “Enough”?

I am wearing a sweater.  It was made in Italy, from some of the fuzziest sheepies on the planet.  New it cost more than $100; I know because it had the original tags on it when I bought it, never worn.  I got it for $3 at a thrift store, because it was irresistibly tasty to the ubiquitous keratin loving Tineidae moths — like some of my other woolens, it has a few holes.  That doesn’t mean it isn’t soft and warm.  Last night my friend Elana got a cute little Smartwool top for $6 that would have cost $60 across the parking lot at Neptune’s: another 90% discount courtesy of the insect world.  This is a repeatable exercise.  How do these things lose virtually all of their monetary value, while retaining so much of their sweatery goodness?  The answer I think, is that we have imbued many material things with powers beyond their physical existence.  A merino sweater is not just a way to stay warm and dry while riding your bike uphill.  It is also a way to signal to the other hairless apes that you are of a certain class, or even ideological bent.  Our things have become a means of communication, a way of transmitting information.  These are some very expensive bits and bytes.

I realize that this isn’t news.  We’ve been doing this kind of thing with shells and feathers for almost as long as we’ve been human.  I only bring it up because recently, I’ve found that the information these artifacts transmit to me has been turned on its head.  Having a thing only implies wealth if you have to pay for the thing ahead of time.  In a debt based economy, having a thing means you have promised your future labors to the Rumpelstiltskin thing-brokers far away in their tall sky scrapers.  Today, to have a thing more often implies a kind of indentured servitude.  A poverty of time and flexibility.  And what other kind of poverty is there, really?  What other kind of wealth besides the freedom to choose how you spend your few remaining days on Earth?

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