Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Carfree Times issue #50 is up

This month has some good stuff on offer. Aside from beautiful photographs of carfree places, you'll find interesting articles about carfree living like:
Expensive Gas Drives Down Suburban Housing Values
Buy a McMansion? Bad idea. But they are cheap. And probably getting cheaper. Housing prices are probably nowhere near their bottom. (There's a scary thought.) But some neighborhoods are holding value. And it's no surprise which neighborhoods. It's the ones that aren't 40 miles from work.
[...]Near the city center, people are still buying and new listings attract plenty of interest. In the city proper, prices are actually up 3.5% over the past year. Good access to public transport is especially important to buyers.

Simply put, the longer the commute, the steeper the drop in prices.

In addition to the 10 or so articles, there's an interesting interview towards the bottom - "Cars Are Driving Us Nuts: We drive ever longer distances in order to satisfy the same needs".

Check it out.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Howard Zinn on Anarchism

Abridged from an interview with Ziga Vodovnik:
Ziga Vodovnik: From the 1980s onwards we are witnessing the process of economic globalization getting stronger day after day. Many on the Left are now caught between a "dilemma" - either to work to reinforce the sovereignty of nation-states as a defensive barrier against the control of foreign and global capital; or to strive towards a non-national alternative to the present form of globalization and that is equally global. What's your opinion about this?

Howard Zinn: I am an anarchist, and according to anarchist principles nation states become obstacles to a true humanistic globalization. In a certain sense the movement towards globalization where capitalists are trying to leap over nation state barriers, creates a kind of opportunity for movement to ignore national barriers, and to bring people together globally, across national lines in opposition to globalization of capital, to create globalization of people, opposed to traditional notion of globalization. In other words to use globalization - it is nothing wrong with idea of globalization - in a way that bypasses national boundaries and of course that there is not involved corporate control of the economic decisions that are made about people all over the world.

ZV: Pierre-Joseph Proudhon once wrote that: "Freedom is the mother, not the daughter of order." Where do you see life after or beyond (nation) states?

HZ: Beyond the nation states? (laughter) I think what lies beyond the nation states is a world without national boundaries, but also with people organized. But not organized as nations, but people organized as groups, as collectives, without national and any kind of boundaries. Without any kind of borders, passports, visas. None of that! Of collectives of different sizes, depending on the function of the collective, having contacts with one another. You cannot have self-sufficient little collectives, because these collectives have different resources available to them. This is something anarchist theory has not worked out and maybe cannot possibly work out in advance, because it would have to work itself out in practice.
ZV: Most of the creative energy for radical politics is nowadays coming from anarchism, but only few of the people involved in the movement actually call themselves "anarchists". Where do you see the main reason for this? Are activists ashamed to identify themselves with this intellectual tradition, or rather they are true to the commitment that real emancipation needs emancipation from any label?

HZ: The term anarchism has become associated with two phenomena with which real anarchist don't want to associate themselves with. One is violence, and the other is disorder or chaos. The popular conception of anarchism is on the one hand bomb-throwing and terrorism, and on the other hand no rules, no regulations, no discipline, everybody does what they want, confusion, etc. That is why there is a reluctance to use the term anarchism. But actually the ideas of anarchism are incorporated in the way the movements of the 1960s began to think.
ZV: Do you thing that pejorative (mis)usage of the word anarchism is direct consequence of the fact that the ideas that people can be free, was and is very frightening to those in power?

HZ: No doubt! No doubt that anarchist ideas are frightening to those in power. People in power can tolerate liberal ideas. They can tolerate ideas that call for reforms, but they cannot tolerate the idea that there will be no state, no central authority. So it is very important for them to ridicule the idea of anarchism to create this impression of anarchism as violent and chaotic. It is useful for them, yes.
ZV: On one occasion Noam Chomsky has been asked about his specific vision of anarchist society and about his very detailed plan to get there. He answered that "we cannot figure out what problems are going to arise unless you experiment with them." Do you also have a feeling that many left intellectuals are losing too much energy with their theoretical disputes about the proper means and ends, to even start "experimenting" in practice?

HZ: I think it is worth presenting ideas, like Michael Albert did with Parecon for instance, even though if you maintain flexibility. We cannot create blueprint for future society now, but I think it is good to think about that. I think it is good to have in mind a goal. It is constructive, it is helpful, it is healthy, to think about what future society might be like, because then it guides you somewhat what you are doing today, but only so long as this discussions about future society don't become obstacles to working towards this future society. Otherwise you can spend discussing this utopian possibility versus that utopian possibility, and in the mean time you are not acting in a way that would bring you closer to that.

ZV: In your A People's History of the United States you show us that our freedom, rights, environmental standards, etc., have never been given to us from the wealthy and influential few, but have always been fought out by ordinary people - with civil disobedience. What should be in this respect our first steps toward another, better world?

HZ: I think our first step is to organize ourselves and protest against existing order - against war, against economic and sexual exploitation, against racism, etc. But to organize ourselves in such a way that means correspond to the ends, and to organize ourselves in such a way as to create kind of human relationship that should exist in future society. That would mean to organize ourselves without centralize authority, without charismatic leader, in a way that represents in miniature the ideal of the future egalitarian society. So that even if you don't win some victory tomorrow or next year in the meantime you have created a model. You have acted out how future society should be and you created immediate satisfaction, even if you have not achieved your ultimate goal.

ZV: What is your opinion about different attempts to scientifically prove Bakunin's ontological assumption that human beings have "instinct for freedom", not just will but also biological need?

HZ: Actually I believe in this idea, but I think that you cannot have biological evidence for this. You would have to find a gene for freedom? No. I think the other possible way is to go by history of human behavior. History of human behavior shows this desire for freedom, shows that whenever people have been living under tyranny, people would rebel against that.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Too Many People?

You know, I get really irritated when people talk about overpopulation. So does this guy. To me it seems like a way of shifting blame. It is about blaming people who live in the global south for environmental problems that were caused by exactly not them. I think a far more pressing need is to reduce our constant striving for unlimited economic growth and overconsumption.
The places where population is growing fastest — sub-Saharan Africa, rural China and Bangladesh — have virtually no carbon emissions, and pitiful food consumption rates. The gap is so huge that to be responsible for as many gas emissions as one British person, a Cambodian woman would need to have 262 children. Can we really sit in our nice homes, with a fridge-full of food we will mostly chuck away and an SUV in the drive, and complain that she is the problem?

Of course, there's only so many people we can fit on the earth- and, you know, feed.
But if this is a problem, is there a solution that isn't abhorrent? Some people seem to reach instinctively for authoritarian answers. The government of China has bragged that its "greatest contribution" to the fight against global warming has been its policy of punishing, imprisoning or sterilising women who have more than one child. Some environmentalists — a small minority — eye this idea jealously.

There is a far better way — and it is something we should be pursuing anyway. It is called feminism. Where women have control over their own bodies — through contraception, abortion and general independence — they choose not to be perpetually pregnant. The UN Fund For Population Activities has calculated that 350 million women in the poorest countries didn’t want their last child, but didn’t have the means to prevent it. We should be helping them by building a global anti-Vatican, distributing the pill and the words of Mary Wollstonecraft.

So we do need to reduce our population growth to something manageable, but improved social justice, security, and women's rights take care of that pretty neatly. For instance here in Canada, where women can be pretty independent, with (mostly) good access to birth control, and a relatively comfortable economic situation, we have a below replacement fertility rate (1.53 per woman). Reproductive rights are a very important part of the puzzle (Unless you're China) - just one more reason we must keep fighting that fight. As I wrote previously:
Give women more choices and they won't have as many babies - they may work outside the home, delay marriage, and use contraception. Children are expensive and less of an asset in industrial, urban societies as opposed to agricultural societies. Wealthier populations tend to also be healthier, which means less infant mortality (which generally correlates with having fewer babies).

It seems that population growth is inversely proportional to the degree to which a society is egalitarian, urbanized and economically secure. You can play with this yourself using Gapminder. Just press "play" to see how the indicators change over time.
Here, correlated with total fertility rate, is Life expectancy at birth. As life expectancy increases, fertility rate decreases. This one shows under 5 mortality rate. This one relates total fertility rate to the percentage of girls who complete primary school. Again, the trend is clear. Similarly, an increased Urban population also correlates to a lower fertility rate. Finally, increased income per person means fewer babies born.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Thursday Thoughts

From Torontoist:
Tory MP Jason Kenney complained that Romeo Dallaire was overly harsh when Dallaire criticized the federal government's handling of the Omar Khadr case. Kenney is a former general who is credited with using meagre resources to save the lives of over 20,000 people during the Rwandan genocide in the face of massive indifference from the west…no, wait, sorry, that was Dallaire. Jason Kenney is a lifetime party hack who didn't finish his bachelor's degree. See, they're almost like twins!

From Paul Graham: al Naqba at 60 and the reflections of a recovered Zionist:
Looking back I am amazed at how easy it was to adopt completely contradictory political positions, for example, to cheer on American blacks in their struggle for civil rights and to be blissfully unaware of the grinding poverty and racist oppression of aboriginal people in my own community; to see the American invasion of Vietnam as a horrendous crime while cheering on the Israeli army as it triumphed in the "Six Day War" of 1967.

Young people are idealists by nature with an instinctive sympathy for underdogs of all kinds. Messages of freedom and equality resonate with youth, in part because they experience the inequality and lack of freedom that accompany parental control.

The direction their idealism takes and their ability to identify underdogs depends pretty much on what they learn, at home, at school, from the media. As the ‘60s progressed it became possible to understand the injustice and horror of the Vietnam War and the just demands of the American civil rights movement: these were on display on the evening TV news. Aboriginal people didn’t have a media voice; they were invisible. And as for Israel and my youthful Zionism, well, I blame American novelist Leon Uris. (Read the rest here)

Via illvox, Bolivian President Evo Morales' 10 commandments to save the planet:
1. In order to save the planet, the capitalist model must be eradicated and the North pay its ecological debt, rather than the countries of the South and throughout the world continuing to pay their external debts.

2. Denounce and PUT AN END to war, which only brings profits for empires, transnationals, and a few families, but not for peoples. The million and millions of dollars destined to warfare should be invested in the Earth, which has been hurt as a result of misuse and overexploitation.

3. Develop relations of coexistence, rather than domination, among countries in a world without imperialism or colonialism. Bilateral and multilateral relations are important because we belong to a culture of dialogue and social coexistence, but those relationships should not be of submission of one country to another. Read the other 7 here.

Monday, May 12, 2008

An Open Letter to People Who Smoke While Driving

Dear smoking drivers,

When you are finished smoking your cigarette, please do not throw it out of your window. There may be a cyclist right in the trajectory of its burning ember.

Your friendly nonsmoking cyclist

p.s. You could also be a real pal and refrain from honking a cyclist out of her lane so that you can illegally pull over into said bike lane where you aren't supposed to be, seeing as how you are in a car and all.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Love Food Hate Waste

My new favourite site: Love Food Hate Waste

Around a third of all the food we buy ends up being thrown away and most of this could have been eaten – it's not just peelings, cores and bones.

90% of us just don't realise how much good food we throw out, yet in the UK we throw away 6.7 million tonnes of food each year.

It's not just an issue of good food going to waste, or that this costs us as consumers a significant amount of money, but that there are serious environmental implications.
The amount of food we throw away is a waste of resources. Just think about all the energy, water and packaging used in food production, transportation and storage. This all goes to waste when we throw away perfectly good food.

I really hate wasting food, and I can't compost at the moment, living in an apartment not yet serviced by the city's green bin collection. I try to eat everything I buy. I freeze leftovers if I know I won't be able to finish them before they go bad. I make stock out of vegetable scraps (keep a bag in the freezer until it is full, then pop it in my crockpot with some water and herbs overnight... mmm). I make muffins out of overripe bananas and not-so-fresh yogurt. But sometimes I just don't know what to DO with my leftover food.

This site has all kinds of great tips. They have a portion planner for those who never know how much to cook, ideas on how to make food stay fresh longer, and all kinds of recipes to help you use up those odds and ends in the fridge.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Bigotry: it's not just for adults anymore

New! "God Hates Fags" T-shirts, now in toddler sizes.

You know what they say: if you want 'em to grow up without a shred of care or compassion for fellow human beings - start 'em early. If you want 'em to become hate-filled, rage-filled, closed-minded, we suggest you work on 'em while they're still malleable. Start with these tees, so the message burns itself into their soft, innocent hearts. Ah, the next generation of little Pat Buchanans:

These kids are going to need some serious deprogramming later in life.

Statistically speaking, some of the kids whose parents dress them in these shirts are going to be gay themselves.

Reminds me of the fact that many (some even say most) victims of homophobic violence (bullying, gay-bashing, etc) are not even gay - but are usually those who others mistakenly think are gay. This is just one reason (you know, aside from the morality aspect) that even straight folk should be concerned about homophobia. Gay bashing is about more than just punishing homosexuality; it is also a method of enforcing social conformity. Boys are punished by their peers for stretching the strictures of masculinist behaviour. Of course, those who do the enforcing don't come up with the idea on their own, but pick it up from heterosexist society, communities, churches, and parents - especially those parents who buy their kids "God Hates Fags" t-shirts.

In case you weren't aware, is a website run by Fred Phelps, leader of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas. They're the ones who have anti-gay protests around the U.S., including at some points showing up at the funerals of gay men, and have moved on to a general "God hates America" theme, due to all our depravity. He makes Jeremiah Wright (Obama's pastor) look like a teddy bear–at least he was just saying God ought to damn America.

From the fantastic site: Sociological Images

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Howard Zinn makes me swoon - even when he's a cartoon character

Seriously, he's my hero.

Check out the cartoon version of Empire or Humanity? What the Classroom Didn't Teach Me about the American Empire
by Howard Zinn
Narrated by Viggo Mortensen