Doom! Doom! Doom!

The sky is falling. The sky is falling. There is no escape. We are all doomed. The United States is going to hell in a hand basket. There is no way to stop our inevitable destruction. Face it. Anything we do will turn out badly. There is no hope.

Give me a break.

Each and every day one or the other of us puts into play another theory on our demise, each prediction forecasts our imminent collapse. I suppose that we are expected to panic, to jump off a bridge or a tall building. But, next day after each such rant, almost all of us awaken, the sun rises in the east, and another day gets underway. Life goes on.

Are we immune to bad things happening to us? Unlikely, but must we continue to focus on the darkness of the world?

Pony Party: Bad Weddings

I did not grow up dreaming of my wedding day. I never kept a scrapbook of wedding ideas. I have never cried at a wedding or got misty. A friend once forced me to watch that silly Wedding Stories on TLC or one of those other cuddly networks and I yawned the whole way through.
One of the true burdens of living in the bible belt, is that I have been forced to attend “dry” receptions. It seems criminal and unjust. Frankly, if I have to buy you a gift, I think you can spot me a glass of wine or two at your reception.

Big weddings are a big con as is the assumption that the parents who just footed the bill for university now have to cough up more for a wedding. I passed through my twenties thinking I might want to get married and attending the weddings of friends who after they got married dropped broad hints that I should. At some point long after most of them got divorced, I did get married. We were well over theory when we did it and it occurred to neither of us to call our parents and ask for money.
I have many memories of bad weddings. There was the time I was dating a guy and he brought me to a wedding partially to meet all of his friends. One of them was getting married and all of his other friends loudly trashed the bride at the table so others could hear. I confronted them at the table and then got pulled into the bathroom by the ladies for a girls consult. I was told I was being rude since I was a stranger and did not understand the situation. I retorted that no matter how they felt about the bride it might be good manners to STFU. I broke off with the man who brought me shortly after.
When I lived in Texas, a fellow Canadian had a quickie wedding back home when her boyfriend was denied entry back into the US because only she had a TN Visa. He ended up going back to Canada to work and she decided during his next visit we would have a “surprise wedding” since she was certain he would have wanted the real thing. We advised the friend it sounded stupid. She was a drama queen and sucked everybody in. I wasn’t considered special enough ( what a relief ) to be in the actual wedding party. The day before the wedding several brides’ maids showed up at my apartment to complain about all the work they had put into the wedding and to discuss a boycott. Then the bride showed up to complain about her brides maids and they ran to go hide in my bedroom. We had a Jerry Springer style showdown hosted by yours truly that ended in tears and hugs. I stood there and rolled my eyes.
The day of the wedding arrived and my special role in this fiasco was to get the groom to his special day and once there walk him up the aisle. I told him to put on his best suit, I placed a blind fold over his eyes and told him he was going to attend an important feast. After we got out of the car, I linked my arm with his, he turned so me and said,” You have got to be kidding me.”
At the reception we all got trashed, I flirted with my future husband, and the newly wedded couple had a fight.
They are still married and have three kids.
Share a few bad wedding stories.
Please don’t rec pony party, have a few laughs and move on.

Identities: Who do you think you are? (Pt.1)

Before Freud, there wasn’t a subconscious and identity just meant your name and parentage.  Once we found the key to our internal door however, it only took five minutes of poking around in there to realize it’s not that simple.

In the twentieth century, after Freud, identity came something else – your sense of self, the idea of yourself that you carry around with you.  It’s your psychic skin – your mental avatar. It orients you and shapes you and it’s taken for granted.

  But you’re not born with it.  Babies don’t know who they are, picture themselves or have a sense of self… so how do we get it?  Where does it come from?

French psychiatrist Jacques Lacan tells us a ‘just-so” story about how we first get our identity.  It’s a story that strips things down to raw consciousness, and holds some fascinating clues to the human condition…

When a baby is born, it doesn’t know why it cries or why it suckles. it has no sense of itself as being discrete from its environment.  Everything is one. Sensations may come from within or without – there is no difference because there is no within and without.  There are no boundaries, limits, no identity and no subjectivity, there is just fluid experience.

At some point in a child’s development, this changes.  The infant slowly awakes to the fact that there is an outside and an inside; a world separate from her, one that she can interact with and that can interact with her.  She is torn out of her imaginary completeness and thrown into a world of difference and separation – this is the birth of subjectivity.

Subjectivity alone is not enough for identity.  Subjectivity just tells us that we are not the world; an identity requires us to see ourselves in the world.  In order to do this, you have to make an imaginary leap outside yourself, to see yourself as a whole person.

We can describe this step by using the example of the infant recognising her reflection for the first time.  At around 18 months she can look in a mirror and, instead of seeing meaningless reflections of light and form, or even another child, she will see herself. The child can look into the mirror at this separate image of herself, and in a moment of recognition that takes place before she has any words to express it, she knows that ‘that’s me’.

It is a deeply conflicted phrase.  ‘This is me’ makes perfect sense, but ‘That is me’ contains a deep, jarring disconnection.  It is not just a linguistic shortcut to avoid saying ‘that is an image of me’; she wholly identifies with the child in the mirror.  What’s more, because this identification is how she creates a sense of identity in the first place, the jarring disconnection is at the heart of human experience.

Let’s recap and think about how this thing called ‘identity’ has come about. There are several important aspects of the process to recognise:

• The first is that it happens at a price, and the price is the painful loss of the original, imaginary unity and completeness.  Identity is born out of loss.  The possibility of aloneness now exists.

• The second is that this painful wrenching out of imaginary completeness requires a massive fracturing of the psyche.  The loss of unity means that what was once whole is now broken into “me” and “not me” or “self” and “other”.

• The third is that our identity is forged through the dislocating process of identification.  The subject and subjectivity are created – paradoxically – by discovering the self in an image outside oneself.  For the rest of our lives, we will locate parts of our selves in external identifications with people, things, images and ideas.

There are also two important qualities of this identity that should be noted:

• The initial separation of “self” from “other” is a massive fracturing, and the further process of identification is dislocating. Identity is therefore broken up, fractured along fault lines, often incomplete and has poorly defined boundaries.  It can be described as a collection of identities, more or less tightly bound together.

• The thing that does the binding in this description is our illusory self-image, which in contrast appears whole, complete, intact and unique.  We identify with these qualities, and so they mask the underlying instability.

The above is an attempt to set down my own understanding of what I lerant from my studies of Lacan’s theory of the Mirror Stage. It may not be an accurate reflection of his work. I wrote it for my own satisfaction; this is the sense I made of it, the sense that I’m happy with.

Lacan’s concept of identity is essentially a more sophisticated revision of Freud.  Lacan took Freud’s narratives of Id vs. Ego and the Oedipal complex and recognized them for the metaphors that they were.

Our identities are metaphors as well – they are the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves.  Once you try to get behind the metaphor to see what it really is, you discover we are, in Douglas Hofstadter’s words, ‘hallucinations, hallucinated by a hallucination”.  More on Hofstadter in Pt. 2.

The Free Hugs Report

“Free Hugs” signs went up this morning in Madison, Wisconsin at the Capital building downtown during the busy farmers’ market.

The weather was a beautiful 70 degrees without a cloud in the sky.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

My step-son Eddie and I spent about two hours walking the perimeter of the market while Firecrow played photographer.

Jump for more hugs:

When I first came across the You Tube video:

I cried at the beauty of the idea.  Why not?  Free hugs.  What a great idea to boost everyone’s seratonin level. 
Firecrow & I discussed organizing an outing and, like with many things, life takes over, responsibilities, etc…..


I needed to conduct an Experience project for college.  I thought about the Free Hugs Campaign immediately.  I had always wondered what would happen if we did this.  This morning I found out.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

We started receiving “customers” right away; our first was this older gay couple who were sitting by a light post resting when we pulled out our signs to begin.  Their faces lit up and we got our first hugs.
Eddie & I spent about five minutes talking to them; one of the gentleman has cuts and bruises on his face and explained to us how he had been beaten up the night before.  He certainly had needed a hug and he thanked us for sharing ours with him.

As we continued on, we experienced an array of responses, ranging from smiles to laughter to amazement to razed eyebrows.

Interestingly enough, the three of us all had different perceptions of our adventure.

Eddie walked about twenty feet ahead of me and found the students, teenagers and college students, along with the elderly flocked to him the most.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket
Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

My experience walking just a bit behind Eddie yielded 30, 40 and 50 somethings and people wanting me to hug their babies.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

We both found that people seemed very fascinated with the project and wanted their picture taken with us.

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Some people wanted group hugs:

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Firecrow had a revealing take on the whole process as he played observer the entire time while snapping pics.  He saw how many people, intrigued by what we were doing, hesitating….then asking for a hug, while others talked with their companions about us, each prompting the other to “just go ahead”.
He also witnessed people who were reluctant while we walked past, suddenly turn around and head towards us.  One college student even came full charge across the Capital lawn just to “attack” Eddie.  It was great to watch!

There were only a couple incidents that you could catagorize as negative, if not, bizarre.

One man, around 60 years old, while openly wanting and receiving two hugs from me at separate times was pleasant, put up his arm when Eddie came near, not wanting to be touched, doing the same to Firecrow, although he did shake his hand.

One woman exclaimed that she gets “plenty of hugs and doesn’t need any more” while another woman demanded to know what “organization” we were with before she would receive a hug.  I asked, “What do you mean “organization”?”  She demanded, “Why are you   doing this?”  I retorted, “Why not?  She hugged me then.

Some people even asked us if it was a gimmick of some kind or wondering if the free hugs were really free.

All in all it was an awesome experience; my face hurts from smiling, Firecrow is taking a nap and Eddie thanked us for inviting him to come along……he wants to go back and do it again.

Its important to note that doing something like this does raise the other person’s seratonin level in the brain, doing it does the same for you and people witnessing the act of kindness and a hug does the same also for someone even if they are mearly observing the act. 

Photo Sharing and Video Hosting at Photobucket

Hugging-it makes you feel better.


Iraq Moratorium Action – Berkeley, CA


Posted for the Iraq Moratorium  (and Alma)

The East Bay Gray Panthers & Strawberry Creek Lodge Tenants Assoc gathered on a Berkeley street corner to protest the war.  I stepped out of work to check it out and they graciously allowed me to snap these photos.  Next month I’m going to bring a sign and join these lovely people.  Kudos to all for taking action against the war.

Peak Oil and the Fall of Suburbia.

Last week I diaried on Kunstler’s The Long Emergency (Wikipedia), first here and then at Big Orange … and the day after this went up here, a slightly shorter version of this essay became a diary at Big Orange.

One aspect of Kunstler’s work, and the one where he is on strongest ground, is the argument that the coming explosion in crude oil prices, as we pass peak oil and start descending down from the peak, is the end of Suburbia.

Of course, one reason I was so quickly persuaded by this argument is that I had already come to the same view. The 1950’s to 1970’s were Suburban Spring, the 1980’s to the Naughties have been Suburban Summer, and now we can look forward to Suburban Autumn.

Or, since I come from a northern climes with deciduous trees, the Fall of Suburbia.

Car Suburbs Came from Rail Cities and Will Give Way To … ???

I mean by “Suburbia” the Car Suburbia that has come to dominate the development of US settlement, and to a slightly lesser extent Western Europe and Australasia since the end of World War II.

I come at this with two premises:

  • Any new dominant settlement system will, of course, emerge from an already existing pattern of settlement; and,
  • Any new dominant settlement system will, of course, have to be able to grow into a dominant position within the context of the previous dominant system.

These two general premises will be required twice … once to understand the supplanting of the Rail City with the Car Suburb, and a next to understand what settlement systems might come to replace the Car Suburb, which is the process that creates the decline, and eventual collapse, of Car Suburbia.

The Evolution of the American Frontier Settlement system

At the start of the Agricultural Revolution, human populations faced rising population densities and lack of unpopulated areas to allow the splitting of hunter-gatherer bands in the face of intra-band conflict. The first pressure forced hunter-gatherers to start investing more and more effort into promoting the human food productivity of ever smaller territories, until population pressures became so high in some areas that they were forced to become full time  cultivators … and therefore forced to settle where they could tend their fields.

And the settlement combined with the lack of option of heading off to neighboring unpopulated territory meant that when intra-band political conflicts were fought through to the point of winners and losers, the losers had to remain subject to the coercive power exercised by the winners.

People become acculturated to the social settings that they experience, and develop folkviews to explain to each other … and, importantly, to their children as they grow up in the social setting … the social rules by which they live. So the patterns of political dominance become entwined with other social institutions, including religion.

And so on top of the settlement system of cultivator villages emerges a network of towns, where villagers come to pay taxes, trade surplus product, and if they are lucky benefit from some of the additional range of goods and services available in the towns.

Sometimes these towns can provide the basis for the emergence of larger cities … sometimes the pressure of warfare makes it more difficult to populate and defend a complete network of towns, and local strongmen in forts exercise their sway over most of the villages, with towns emerging only at especially favorable locations … but anyway, through to the 1500’s, this sketches out the background settlement system of cultivator villages, market towns, and administrative cities that was in place from the high income core of the Old World system in East Asia, all the way through to poorer “developing country” backwaters like Western Europe.

And, of course, in the 1500’s, the European backwater in particular stumbled onto mountains of silver in the New World, and could start buying their way into the wealthy trading systems in the core of the Old World system, with China at its center, and India, Southeast Asia and Japan as primary high income nations with trade deficits with China but at a substantial step above Europe.

These mountains of silver were in the hands of the Spanish, and so it was critical for other nations to find and develop sources of luxury goods to use to get the Spanish to part with their silver. Key luxury goods for the European occupation of the New World included sugar, tobacco, cotton textiles … and furs.

So, from the start of European settlement on the eastern seaboard of North America, the focus was on production or acquisition of export goods. In the mid-Atlantic states, for example, the key export goods were furs and wheat. The furs were obtained by trading with Native Americans, which brought European agents into territory, while the wheat was obtained by occupying Native American farming lands. This was sometimes aided by the impact of European cattle and other farm animals grazing on unfenced cornfields, making the neighborhood of existing European farmland an unappealing place for Native American agriculture … but two of the biggest keys were disease and guns, both of which led to substantial declines in Native American populations at keys points in the colonization process.

And from this type of process emerges the “frontier” settlement system, in which settlers obtain frontier land very cheaply, and work to establish a farmstead with an eye to building a steady export base. The proceeds of this export base then can help subsidize the movement out to the new frontier, either with the less successful selling out now more valuable land, or with the next generation of the families raised by successful farmers.

As an area developed, market towns emerged where the exportable surplus was brought for sale, and the network of market towns formed the hinterlands of commercial cities. Concentrated resource could be exploited for the production of industrial goods also contributed to the establishment of towns and cities based on the industrial workforce … but as long as markets were primarily regional, there was a limit on the population of industrial workers that could be supported in a given town or city.

The Evolution of the Rail Cities

By the 1870’s, the Railroadification of America was seriously underway. One consequence was the knitting together of a larger number of national markets, where previously there had been a series of regional markets. The rise of national markets meant that industrial workforces could expand. While international agricultural exports continued, a growing share of agricultural output was “exported” domestically to the growing urban populations.

As the frontier closed, one of the sources for the growth in urban populations was a growing internal migration from the countryside to the city … and an ever growing share of immigrants ended up working in the cities rather than settling on the frontier. A fifth or less of the population was urban before the Civil War … by World War I, a majority of the population was urban.

One of the features of urban life in this period was the lack of zoning, which meant that no matter where you lived in the city, it was possible for some noisy, filthy, polluting, and/or stinking enterprise to be established in the next block over, undermining the value of your urban townhouse. And combined with the rise of the electric interurbans … as light rail was called at the turn of the 20th century … this led to the emergence of the Rail Suburb.

A rail suburb grows up in the vicinity of a train station or along an interurban line, giving access to employment in the city, without the downside of living cheek to jowl with noisy, filthy, polluting, and/or stinky industrial enterprises. Indeed, interurbans were often developed at a loss as a means of making a profit from the development of land.

However, “Rail Suburbia” cannot emerge as a new form of settlement. The train station, or the junction of light rail lines, provides a core for the suburb through which much of the suburban population passes twice a day. That makes that a prime commercial zone. Now, zoning in the US is driven by the interests of people making money from property development, and so if there is money to be made from creating a commercial center for the rail suburb, by hook or by crook, a commercial center will be developed.

So a rail suburb development grows into a town. It is a peculiar type of town, in which the base export activity involves the direct sale of labor power in the neighboring city … but its still a town. If it continues to grow, the commercial center will spill over into the closest residential neighborhoods, new enterprises will become established, and eventually its own urban activities may be the primary source of income, and it may sprout rail suburbs of its own. If the base for the the settlement system remains stable, the residential areas closest to the commercial core will be driven by higher values per acre either into the highest status neighborhoods, higher density of settlement or, possibly, an intensive or extensive combination of both.

The Evolution of the Peculiar Local Economics of Car Suburbia

However, the US turned away from reliance on rail. In the 1920’s, much of the roar in the Roaring Twenties was provided by the surge in road works, in an explosion of mileage of paved road in the US. This was driven in large part by the replacement of horse transport with car transport, complementing the rail transport system with a local transport technology that did not leave horse shit lying all over the road.

And then in the 1930’s, National Policy in the US turned against rail and toward the establishment of highways for regional and interstate transport. There was a hiatus during World War II, with rail reaching its high point in terms of general passenger and freight service … but with the exigencies of war, this could not be leveraged into infrastructure expansion. And then postwar pattern was established of subsidies for air and road, while for the most part, rail was funded on the YOYO principle … you’re on your own.

The system that has emerged rests on a tripod of supporting elements:

  • first, a long term trend to rising suburban property values, which combines with the tax-subsidy of deducting mortgage interest payments to encourage most households to treat home ownership as their primary means of wealth accumulation;
  • second, substantial subsidy of the road transport system, where direct taxation is focused on funding roadworks which encourage residential, commercial and industrial development, and the bulk of external costs of the road transport system are born by third parties; and,
  • third, a zoning system which requires separation of residential, commercial and industrial properties, together with substantial subsidy of decentralized commercial and industrial development by localities attempting to encourage development to cope with the excessive public costs of suburban residential development (in large part because of their high external costs per resident).

How Does Peak Oil Impact On Car Suburbia

A crude reading of the impact of Peak Oil on car suburbia is that people will be unable to afford to drive, so suburbs will transition from “cultural wastelands” to uninhabitable hellholes.

That’s not where I am coming from. I focus on the changes on behavior at the margin, and then how those changes impact upon the system, and then on what changes on behavior are implied by those impacts. In other words, while my training in economics was not limited to the traditional marginalist economics that forms the entire universe of the traditional mainstream economist … it certainly did include marginalist analysis, and I am happy to trot it out where it does, in fact, apply. I certainly am critical of traditional mainstream economists for only having a single tool at their disposal … in the aphorism, of only having a hammer, and seeing a screw as nothing but an awkward nail. However, when it is time to drive in nails, a hammer does the job nicely.

Impact of Peak Oil on Residential Property Values. Peak oil has two direct lines of impact on residential property values. First, a larger share of the car suburb household budget must be devoted to transport, so a smaller share is available for everything else … including housing. Second, unless there is a national policy shift against the car transport system, peak oil implies an ongoing decline in US income per person, as an every increasing share of national income must go to pay for energy imports. Both of those declines imply a decline in property values compared to otherwise.

This could be exacerbated if national monetary policy focuses on attempting to constrain imported inflation through increases in the cash rate (in the US, the Federal Funds rate) … which would then further decrease the cash price that could be paid from a relatively smaller share of a relatively smaller real income.

Impact of Peak Oil on Public Road Subsidy. At first blush, it would seem that peak oil would increase roadworks funding, by increasing the take from percentage fuel taxes. However, the reality is likely to be the reverse.

For one thing, only a part of roadworks is funded by fuel taxes, and only a part of fuel taxes are levied as a percent of the purchase price. The balance is funded out of income and sales taxes, which will both be squeezed by the squeeze on both total income and income available for spending on something other than transport. And further, as people’s real incomes are squeezed by the cost of transport, there will be public pressure to reduce fuel taxes, as a direct government policy that can “do something” about the rising cost of fuel.

Turning to the supply side, we use oil to build roads. We use heavy equipment that is fueled by oil, and we pave with asphalt. So the cost of roadworks will rise with the increase in price of oil … and the funding for roadworks is unlikely to rise to keep pace.

Impact of Peak Oil on Single-Use Zoning. As I have already indicated, I take it as a premise that zoning in the US is driven by the economic interests of property development. And at the margin, those interests will shift with Peak Oil.

An onsite residential population will become more and more valuable to commercial properties as the per mile costs of transport rise. The benefits of locating in close proximity to other traffic drivers will also increase, as the rise in transport costs increase the incentive on motorists to pool multiple tasks in a single trip.

For office and industrial parks, the transport costs of the workforce of the industrial park become a growing problem. One impact is an increase in demand for housing that is closer to the industrial park. On the other hand, industrial parks that are better integrated into public transport systems will have less difficulty in recruiting workers from a wider area.

Both commercial zones and industrial parks will also face increasing costs of road-based freight, driving an increasing reliance on rail freight. That implies a commercial advantage for commercial zones and industrial parks that are integrated into the national freight rail network. That implies a commercial benefit for other commercial zones and industrial parks to gain the infrastructure to connect into the national freight rail network, via branch lines or light rail systems interconnecting with the freight rail network.

Growth or Decline … Its Much the Same. Now, I have made this all relative to the status quo … and the status quo has been rising real incomes, both before and after the share of income devoted to transport. However, I would argue that the main development driver will be much the same whether the impact of Peak Oil is slower growth of real incomes, or is in fact actual declines in real incomes. In the first case, the values of residential, commercial and industrial properties will accelerate if they feature mixed used and integration into the freight rail network. In the latter case, these are the properties that will best retain their values while the values of properties with less mixed use and less integration into the freight rail network will decline more rapidly.

In either case, there will be a shift in preference for residential properties that are integrated into commercial and/or industrial zones, and away from residential properties in homogeneous Car Suburbs. That shift in preference will further reduce the values of properties in Car Suburbs. Once the stereotype of Suburban Decline has become established in popular culture, the collapse of Car Suburbia will begin.

The Collapse of Car Suburbia

After all, we have been through this before. At the end of World War Two, urban residences dominated our settlement system. And in the flight to the suburbs, a tipping point was reached in one city after another where the value of existing urban residences began to decline with no recovery in sight. Landlords, in an effort to generate income from properties that were being abandoned by the middle class, could only resort to subdividing properties and renting smaller apartments to poorer residents who either could not afford or … because of redlining … were denied access to finance for the middle class suburban home.

This was a long, slow, slide for the cities. After all, even as jobs started to follow population out into suburban commercial centers and office/industrial “parks”, cities continued to have some employment base, which gave them some means of struggling on.

A single-use Car Suburb has no employment base. It exists entirely on its ability to attract those who are employed elsewhere to devote a share of that income to serving a mortgage on a suburban house. When its residents start to have less and less free income compared to people residing in cities, towns, and emerging mixed-use commercial/residential and industrial/residential zones, and at the same time it can offer less and less opportunity to accumulate wealth in suburban properties, then it can no longer offer what it once offered a suburban resident.

But this is no surprise. We already know, from looking at the behavior of a wide range of natural and social systems, that systems with less diversity are more prone to collapse. So some urban neighborhoods have managed to limp through the age of the Car Suburb … while on the other hands, existing Car Suburbs that are unable to reinvent themselves as something else are going to go into terminal decline.

The New Suburban Spring

I’m an eternal optimist, and so I don’t want to end this with the collapse of the Car Suburb. And I have, of course, laid the foundation for imagining the next step … with my premise that American zoning follows what makes money for property developers.

What will make money for property developers when we return to Expensive Energy will, of course, be property development that economizes on travel, and channels travel into energy-efficient transport technology.

So let me turn to the industrial park that I cycle to, when I am lucky enough to be called in. Obviously, people from the town where I live will never cycle between 90 and 120 minutes each way to get to a job paying in the range of $8.00 to $12.00 an hour.

However, in order to keep shipping things into and out of that industrial park, it is going to become necessary to invest in infrastructure to connect the industrial park with the rail system. And whether that is a branch line or a light rail system, one way for the industrial park to make a claim for government subsidy on that infrastructure will be to include a passenger rail service.

Well, either they get it or they don’t. If they get it, there will continue to be employment opportunities at that site, and if they don’t, employment opportunities there will decline, and we can shift our attention to the industrial park that does get that infrastructure. Wherever they link into the rail network will be the origin for a commuter rail network that offers access to dozens of industrial work-sites. That will then be a magnet for the county public transport system.

Of course, that interchange will become valuable commercial property, because public transport will be available to that area. Whatever suburban properties are in the immediate vicinity will increase in value, tipping over into the point where multiple units per lot offer more value to the developer than single units, so zoning will shift to allow multiple units per lot. That will reinforce the transport links between my town and the town at the junction of the industrial park.

The key point here … and the reason to harbor some guarded optimism … is that this does not require everybody being convinced of the appropriate response to the collapse of Car Suburbia. It is sufficient for large numbers of individual property owners and local communities to try whatever they can come up with … and then for the most successful responses to be copied by increasing numbers of suburbanites in the face of the on-going, inexorable collapse in property values of the single-use Car Suburb.

And in a country where government policy has channeled such a large share of the population into treating a suburban owner-occupied house as an investment property, I am confident that there will be large numbers of individual property owners and local communities trying what they can. Some of the efforts will make things worse, some of the effort will make things better, and the system as a whole will eventually be pushed in the direction that economizes on transport.

How to Second Life 2 – Kossack Fullstop at Orientation Island.

Well, I spent the morning before Little Loner woke up walking around Orientation Island on Second Life, completing tutorials, and happily taking snapshots. Well, snapshots are disabled on Orientation Island, and I was too sleepy to notice, so there went my morning.

Still, thanks to the screenshot utility in Ubuntu Linux, I can show you  how to log in to SL, and the first four tutorials on Orientation Island – the required ones.

Again, if you’re not interested in Second Life and/or think it’s a waste of time, don’t bother telling us – this diary is a response to requests for help from the community having trouble with Second Life, so I’m not going to bother trying to sell it.

Oh, and lots of pictures below the flip. You have been warned.

Join me below the flip for links and what your first login to Second Life will look like.


Second Life

Second Life Client Downloads

Kossack Fullstop Part 1

Natalia Zelmanov’s Guide to Getting Started in SL.

Okay, last time you made your account on the Second Life website and downloaded and installed the client for your operating system. Today we’re going to fire up your client for the first time, log in to Second Life, discuss the interface, and talk about the four tutorials that Second Life requires you to complete before you can leave Orientation Island.

When you fire up the client for the first time, you’ll be looking at something a lot like this picture – and realizing why I told you to write your avatar name and password down last time.


Don’t panic if you don’t see the “Start Location” field.  I enabled that in Preferences.

If you’re just joining us – the “New Account” button will take you to the website to make an account,. The “Preferences” button deals with the graphics, audio, video, and miscellaneous settings for your Second Life client. “Quit” exits the client.

Enter your avatar’s name and your password and click “Connect”

Next, you’ll see the Terms and Conditions:

Read carefully. Contents may settle during shipment.  Void where prohibited by law.

Read them carefully, and click “Agree” and continue if you agree. If you don’t…well, it’s been fun.

Then, finally, finally – you will see Orientation Island and your avatar standing in the center of the screen – you’re in-world. Welcome to Second Life!

It's alive! IIIT's ALIIIIIIIIVE!!!

Okay, let’s talk about what you’re seeing – in the upper left corner a guide will appear, with instructions on how to go about completing the tutorials. Along the top are the various menus – File, Edit, View, World, Tools, and Help. (Client and Server are optional menus). Next to that, a few icons telling you if pushing, building, scripts, voice, and damage are enabled – we’ll deal with those later. Next to that, a title bar tells you where you are.

In the upper right corner I have the Mini-Map turned on (if ou look at the buttons on the bottom, you’ll see Mini Map lit), and under that I have the Camera Controls enabled – the option for that is in the View menu.

On the bottom, you see the volume slider on the right, and below that the History button, text entry box, Say and Shout buttons, and Gestures selection. That toolbar comes up when you click the Chat button – notice how that’s lit too. The bottom row is the Communicate, Chat, Fly, Snapshot, Search, Build, Mini-Map, Map, and Inventory buttons. Most of these are dealt with in the tutorials.

You can see in the mail window that the first tutorial has started – my task is, using the  arrow keys, to move my avatar to the target on the ground. Ooooo.

Assuming this mighty task is successful, we are given the option to continue with the Move tutorials or to take the other required ones. Although I’m only covering the required tutorials in this diary, I STRONGLY URGE you to explore Orientation Island and complete all of the optional tutorials as well.

That said, let’s move on to the next screenshot.

What mind-boggling task awaits us next?

For Search, you are required to open the Map and find your location on it. Not to give away the plot, but the “Map” button on the bottom row might have something to do with that.

Let’s give that a try…


And there I am on the map. Thanks to my crappy laptop, that’s all there is on the map.

Next, we go to the Communicate tutorial. Let’s have a look at our mission there.

Let me guess. It was something I said.

We need to click the “Chat” button on the bottom, which will open the text box I helpfully have closed for this screenshot.

Text is still the major way to communicate in Second Life – although if you have a USB headset with your system, you can talk with other residents in voice-enabled areas. I don’t have one, so we’ll just have to go over that when I do.

Finally, we’ll go over to the Appearance tutorial:

Grappling with inventory. Oh, we've been waiting for this.

This is one of the things you’ll be doing the most often – everything you acquire in-world will wind up somewhere in your inventory. Let’s have a look at what the famous Inventory window looks like.

The horror...Good God, the - hey, that's not too bad.

Those are the four required tutorials – once you complete those you’ll get the key in your guide that you can see in mine. Clicking on that key will kick you out of Orientation Island and into Second Life proper, so don’t unless you are sure you’re done here.

This should let you know what Herculean tasks await you once you fire up Second Life. Where we go from next is up to you – Kossack Fullstop is still on Orientation Island, so we can go to the optional tutorials, or we can go into Second Life proper. See the poll to vote.

[poll id=”




On the one hand I have never been someone who celebrates “special occurences” since I have always believed that each event is special in its own way.  On the other hand my past bouts with my OCD have imbued a certain Monk-like behavior as regards to numbers.

Today is the 100th consecutive week with a Teacher’s Lounge.  The special meaning that holds for me right now is that it means in 4 more editions, TL will reach having existed for two years and on the following Saturday will be it’s 2nd birthday.  If the calendar went metric, maybe I wouldn’t have to quibble about this. 🙂

But I’ll start planning (famous procrastinator words) something bigger for next month.

Meanwhile there is today.  What I would like to generate is some feedback.

Cross-posted in Orange

I have to admit that as a teacher, I may have handled the issue of feedback poorly for most of my career.  I probably haven’t given enough positive feedback.  As a math teacher, my approach was as follows: 

  • assign a value to the problem
  • deduct a certain amount for every mistake
  • explain why there is an error
  • correct the error

I am perhaps a natural-born editor.  I can be picky, picky, picky.  But my goal has been to get the students to the point where they eliminate their mistakes.  Classic negative reinforcement, I am now given to understand:  behave correctly and I will remove the negative stimulus.

I have relied heavily on the assignment of partial credit, which is one of the reason I was vehemently opposed to multiple-choice type examinations.  I’ve lightened up on that a bit since I began teaching programming languages instead of mathematics.

I have relied on students understanding that 9 or 10 out of ten is excellent, 8 is good, 7 is acceptable, 6 is tolerable, and that less than 6 means that this type of problem needs to be revisited.  I explained that to them early and often.  I also explain to them that I am quite anal and that because of it I often deduct half points…and sometimes even quarter points.  I’ve been known to split hairs down to sixths.  And if one has quarters and sixths, one is bound to assign grades of 88 11/24 from time to time.

And 88 11/24 is great.  B’s are good.  B+’s are great.  A-‘s are fantastic.  A’s are outstanding.  And it is not the case, however much I wish it were so, that the entire class consists of students who are outstanding.

I have moderated that somewhat now that I teach computer programming.  First off, I believe in projects, not exams, though the latter are required to keep the students from falling too far behind.  Some of the projects consist of them doing what they are told to do.  They get credit for completing the tasks.  For the final project I give my students a list of items they can include and how much value they have and let them build the project they wish to build.  They don’t like the fact that they have to decide what their program will do.  Or that they have to design it.  Or that they have to make it do what they chose to make it do.  But I always make it possible for them to get more than the assigned value of the project (in last year’s Visual Basic final project, it was possible to get 290 out of 225).

But no, I do not often write on the students paper about all the times they did the right thing.  There are not enough hours in the day for me to both assign partial credit and comment on ever step that was done correctly.

Maybe I fail in that.  And maybe I spend too much time and attention on the students who need more guidance, thereby not spending enough time praising the students who don’t need as much.  I’ve been trying to work on that over the last decade.  I don’t really know how well I am succeeding at it.  Feedback from students is often less than helpful:

    What do you like about this course?


    What would you change about this course?


So perhaps it is time to be a target, for either the good or the bad. 

What needs to be changed about what happens here? 

    I know I have had some complaints from time to time about the rules down at the bottom, that they discourage discussion, etc.  From my point of view, they have generated a certain atmosphere of trust that isn’t found in a lot of diaries.  That’s what I was hoping for when I created them anyway.

How can more students be encouraged to engage in the dialog about their education?

    Student engagement is also a problem in the meat world of college campuses.

How can Teacher’s Lounge be made better? 

    Faster, stronger.  We have the technology.

I’ll be honest, though, and say that a little positive feedback wouldn’t be met with disdain.

Pony Party : Dog Walking Edition

Now that the weather is more tolerable, Arno and I have gone back to our walking routine. At one point during August, even early in the morning, it was so humid you could have cut a piece of the air out and made a sand which. If Arno doesn’t get his walk he becomes pesky, even when he gets his walk he is a high energy clown. Once we get back from holidays in October he is also going back to obedience class.

Walking the pooch and taking pictures at the same time isn’t easy. My Nikon D40 is light and easy to handle and while I hope to get a higher end Nikon one day, it does nicely for a hobby picture seeker like myself. Nothing spectacular just a taste of one of our typical walks. We usually go three miles.

Things are quiet even at nine thirty in the morning.


I covet this large pond a few houses away from us.


This little cutie usually comes right out on to the road when we pass by. He seemed very subdued today, guess dogs have biorhythms, to.


Pretty common sight. The rule in a rural area is that if you pass somebody on the road walking, biking, riding any kind of vehicle, you must wave. It doesn’t matter if you know them or not.


This is my favorite horse. He is not bothered or perturbed by Arno, and will touch noses with him.


I tell myself that he knows me because he always comes over to say hello.


I am amazed the landscape around here does not resemble a crispy  piece of toast considering the near drought conditions we have had for two or three summers.




Arno after the mission was completed…


Thanks for looking and please share pictures of your stomping grounds and puppies.

Undercovercalico in the house,
Hey, I’m hungry can you fry me a mouse?

Please remember not to rec Pony Party, hang out, chat, and then go explore the diary list.

Lapis Lazuli and Smoke

(FP’ed 3:45 AM, September 23, 2007. – promoted by exmearden)

The outdoor tank serving as the home for a family of harbor seals was relatively quiet.  Only a few straggling tourists wheeling strollers filled with cookie-crunching toddlers were pointing fingers at the slowly lolling seals.

The very oldest, Smoke, swam by, her blue-white cataract eyes open, and her well-worn pattern through the water predictable and safe.  Always safe. She glided to the far end of the tank and diffidently sank to the bottom where sleep awaited.

One of her offspring stood silent sentry upright in the water above her. As vigilant and expressionless as a Buckingham Palace guard, his gaze never faltered, his posture never changed.

A man rapped on the glass.  “Is that seal dead?” he asked his mate, both dressed in the uniform of the day – tee shirts bearing garish signage covering overhanging bellies, blue jeans never intended to serve as work clothes, and athletic shoes which will never be worn for athletics.

As if in acknowledgment, Smoke wafted a flipper, subtly turned her head and drifted upwards.  Released from duty, her now-elderly son glided off after bestowing his mama with a graceful somersault.

Smoke stretched her torpedo torso and aimed among the rocks at the bottom.  Usually bare except for some waving sea grass and sea weed, today she stopped short.

There, feeling and tasting and exploring the bottom on particular, discerning feet was the loveliest of blue lobsters!  Two elegant, foot-long feelers oh-so-slightly tapped and tested and tuned.  Mitten claws were slightly open.  No aggression, but instead, the goat-like browsing of the flora of the bottom of the green fringed tank.

The lobster, all glistening and gleaming with the many hued brilliant blues of lapis lazuli, watched Smoke watch him.  They were two creatures with blurry, hazy gazes sizing up one another.  Friend?  Foe? Partner? Alien? Neighbor?

Lapis Lazuli extended a feeler, then took a small, careful, deliberate step toward Smoke.

Entranced, Smoke remained prone, her face intently watching the movements of the lobster engaged in his own chorus line of feet, expertly coordinated and timed in a complex dance.

The lobster approached a bit more briskly now.  Straight on, forward, but with mittens still soft, slightly ajar, inquisitive, a bit unsure, but not afraid.

Smoke waited patiently.  She, of course, was to be greeted and feted, as was her due, being the wise and old Smoke seal.

The blueness dazzled, and even Smoke was impressed by the radiance of the blue shell.  A feeler extended, rose and delicately fell to touch – just so – the end of Smoke’s nose.

She acknowledged the greeting with a flick of whisker and stillness.

Lapis continued.  Two feelers tapped, tapped, tapped, “Hello!”  The chorus of nimble legs and feet beat out a welcoming tattoo.  The rhythm of the dance was mesmerizing.

The blue and the grey enjoyed their private moment of kairos.  Then they drifted apart, each returning to a separate world in the tank.  Smoke sleepily returned to her fellow family of seals sleeping in heaps in a corner of the tank.

Lapiz Lazuli, flush with the success of a new friend found, continued on his exploration, and he next turned his attention to the rocky wall of the tank.  Bravely, courageously, he headed straight up the wall, legs gaining a purchase among the mossy crevasses.

As he gained the summit, he took time to award himself with lovely bits from the waving green fauna surrounding him.  After a savored meal, he peered over the edge of the ledge, lifted up his carapace and plunged downward.  Bold.  Unafraid.  Master of his world.

Emmanuel Todd: ‘Iran is not dangerous’ (but Sarkozy is)

In yet another fascinating interview, demographer Emmanuel Tood (best known for his prediction – based on demographic trends – of the Soviet Union collapse, and his more recent predictions of the “end of the US empire“) discusses Iran at length, and suggests that demographic trends in the Muslim world, and in particular in Iran, suggest a massive weakening of the influence of religion over their populations, rather than the opposite.

Bringing you one of our famous bilingual two-column diaries from the European Tribune

Dans « L’invention de l’Europe », j’avais montré que la montée de l’alphabétisation des populations ne suffit pas à expliquer, à elle seule, la baisse de la fécondité. Pour observer une chute du nombre des naissances, il fallait qu’à l’alphabétisation s’ajoute une diminution de l’influence religieuse.


In “The invention of Europe”, I had shown that increasing literacy rates in a population was not enough, on its own, to explain dropping fertility rates. To actually see a drop in birth rates, you needed a reduction in religious influence in addition to growing literacy rates.


Si on observe dans de nombreux pays musulmans des taux de fécondité proches de deux enfants par femme, la montée de l’islamisme que nous observons aujourd’hui ne masque-t-elle pas une réalité plus profonde, à savoir un ébranlement de la croyance religieuse ? As we can see in many Muslim countries fertility rates very close to 2 children per woman, this suggest that the rise of Islamism actually hides a deeper reality, i.e. a profound weakening of religious belief.

He notes that such a transition is never simple or peaceful but that, compared to our own experience in Europe, the Muslim world’s own behavior is rather restrained and consequences of the upheaval of such a transition period are rather benign, overall.

Il y a plus de différence démographique entre la France et l’Allemagne qu’entre la France et l’Iran !

 Nous avons fait une étude comparée de l’Iran et de la Turquie. La Turquie, plus proche de l’Europe, reste dans ce domaine moins moderne que l’Iran. L’étude des minorités kurdes en Turquie, en Syrie, en Irak et en Iran montre que, partout, ces communautés ont une surfécondité. Parmi elles, une seule s’est modernisée démographiquement et alignée sur le coeur du pays : il s’agit des Kurdes d’Iran.

Dans ce contexte, les attaques actuelles contre l’Iran apparaissent absurdes et oppressantes. L’Iran n’est pas le danger !

There’s a bigger gap, demographically speaking, between France and Germany than between France and Iran!

We’ve compared Iran and Turkey. Turkey, which is geographically closer to Europe, is less modern demographically than Iran. For instance, the study of the Kurdish minorities in Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran shows that, in each country, they have higher fertility rates than the country they reside in – all, except in Iran, where the Kurdish minority has modernised demographically and is aligned on the rest of the country.

In that context, the current attacks on Iran appear absurd and oppressive. Iran is not a threat today.

Le cas du Pakistan est problématique. Ce pays est en retard en termes de fécondité, possède l’arme nucléaire et se trouve au début d’une explosion islamiste. Pourtant, les alliés américains prennent ces données avec beaucoup de légèreté Pakistan is a lot more worrying. The country is late in its demographic evolution, has nuclear weapons, and is in the midst of an Islamic explosion. And yet these facts are treated with carelessness by its American ‘ally’.

This reminds me of the sad joke that the “Eurabia” concept is, considering that fertility rates in Iran, Algeria, Turkey or Morocco are now all lower than in France. But again, that reflects widespread ignorance about demographic trends and what they may mean – where Todd brings truly compelling data.

One might note as well the added hypocrisy of demonizing countries and being surprised that their populations rally around their (opportunistically nationalistic and populist) leaders, not to mention the double standard inherent in a discourse that explicitly puts countries on a target list – while using missionary language (the ‘axis of evil’) and then points to their hostile reactions as proof of their danger…

Todd has little more to say about the USA beyond what he said earlier, but has a few choice words for Sarkozy:

Je n’ai pas changé d’avis. Les États-Unis sont en situation de perte de puissance : ils n’ont pas réussi à prendre le contrôle de l’Irak et n’ont pas empêché la reprise d’autonomie de la Russie. A la limite, la seule conquête des américains c’est Nicolas Sarkozy ! Mais ils sont en train de perdre les Anglais…


I have not changed my mind: the USA is losing power: it could not take control of Iraq, could not prevent Russia from regaining its autonomy. In a way, the USA’s only conquest lately has been [French President] Nicolas Sarkozy! They are even losing the English…


Les commentateurs politiques comparent la manière dont Nicolas Sarkozy exerce le pouvoir et le bonapartisme, une sorte de droite autoritaire spécifique au génie national.

Le moment est venu de s’interroger sur la dimension internationale du bonapartisme. Les deux Bonaparte nous ont valu plusieurs invasions du territoire national, la politique extérieure de Napoléon III a mené à la défaite de Sedan.

La provocation généralisée avec les autres pays européens et la morgue agitée de notre gouvernement, ajoutées à ses prises de position sur l’Iran, commencent à m’inquiéter.

Pundits in France compare Sarkozy’s behavior in power with bonapartism, a kind of right wing authoritarianism infused with a strong belief in France’s genius.

It’s time to worry about its international implications. Both Bonapartes [NB: the better known Napoleon after the French revolution, and self-proclaimed Emperor Napoleon III who ruled France between 1851 and 1870] brought France repeated invasions of its territory and Napoleon III’s policies led to the defeat in Sedan [France’s humilating defeat against Prussia in 1870].

The current attitude of permanent provocation against other European countries and the noisy arrogance of our government, together with its attitude towards Iran, are really worrying me.

British Army Chief: “Our opponents…are Iraqi nationalists”

“Our opponents in the main are Iraqi nationalists, and are most concerned with their own needs – jobs, money, security, hope. And the majority, therefore, I would suggest are not bad people.”

General Sir Richard Dannatt, head of the British Army, speaking about the Iraqi resistance (via) during a recent speech at the Institute for International Studies (IISS) in London.

Channel Four news showed a film of him making the remarks:

(via lenin)

When the head of the British Army describes the “majority” of the Iraqi resistance as “Iraqi nationalists” and “not bad people”, thereby totally deflating the official government narrative about the ‘insurgency’ being primarily composed of crazy al-Qaeda/takfiri fanatics, it’s surely big news.

However, whilst a search for ‘general richard dannatt’ on Google News brings up plenty of articles discussing his speech, a search for ‘general richard dannatt “not bad people”‘ produces but a single Guardian article, which buries the quote in a passing mention three paragraphs from the end.

It seems inconceivable that the mainstream press would report a speech so heavily and yet almost unanimously fail to mention one of its most important details, but it appears that this is what has happened. A Google search for ‘general richard dannatt “not bad people”‘ confirms this.

Who needs censorship when you have a press that is perfectly willing to ignore statements from a top military official in order to preserve the official government line all by itself?

Cross-posted at The Heathlander

Load more