Dispatches from a war against an abstract noun

Paul Raven @ 26-01-2011

Offered without any comment whatsoever [via Kottke.org]:

For the second year in a row, the U.S. military has lost more troops to suicide than it has to combat in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Welcome to the Dropout Economy

Paul Raven @ 16-03-2010

American pride?This one’s doing the rounds everywhere at the moment (I spotted it thanks to Chairman Bruce and John Robb), and with good reason: it’s a provocative piece, especially coming from Time Magazine. Welcome to the Favela Chic future, American style:

Middle-class kids are taught from an early age that they should work hard and finish school. Yet 3 out of 10 students dropped out of high school as recently as 2006, and less than a third of young people have finished college. Many economists attribute the sluggish wage growth in the U.S. to educational stagnation, which is one reason politicians of every stripe call for doubling or tripling the number of college graduates.

But what if the millions of so-called dropouts are onto something? As conventional high schools and colleges prepare the next generation for jobs that won’t exist, we’re on the cusp of a dropout revolution, one that will spark an era of experimentation in new ways to learn and new ways to live.

Go read the whole thing, and see Reihan Salam predict the rise of roll-your-own web-based homeschooling, resilient sub-communities based on the exchange of labour rather than money, backyard farming and permaculture, mend-and-make-do and hardware hacker attitudes, and a complete volte-face away from institutional politics.

Exaggerated for controversy and effect? Almost certainly… but grown from more than a single grain of truth, I think, and just as likely to happen over here in the Eurobloc, though maybe not so soon or so hard. [image by emseearr]


The Free Freeways

Tim Maly @ 20-01-2010

Excerpts from “Asphalt Veins – The Freeway States” Published in NEWStream and syndicated to all ReutAssoc membersites (retrieved December 21 2012 @ 13:34).

Ysterplaat Airshow 2008
Creative Commons License photo credit: mallix

It was no great surprise when the highways seceded. Continue reading “The Free Freeways”


White faces in the day labour queue

Paul Raven @ 11-11-2009

I clearly remember my first day travelling in Mexico, walking out from my hostel to check out the zocalo at the centre of El D.F. and catching sight of long rows of men stood by their open toolboxes, with little signs explaining what sort of work they’d do, and for how much money. I’d never seen people queuing for day labour before; I don’t know if it’s ever happened in the UK during my lifetime.

It’s a more common sight in the US, apparently, especially in cities with high densities of immigrants, legal or otherwise. And now in Las Vegas (and elsewhere) the immigrants are being joined by US-born citizens as the economy continues its slow grind through the low times [via GlobalGuerrillas]:

In the latest sign of the Las Vegas Valley’s economic free fall, U.S. citizens are starting to show up in the early mornings outside home improvement stores and plant nurseries across the Las Vegas Valley, jostling with illegal immigrants for a shot at a few hours of work.

Experts say the slow-starting but seemingly inexorable trend is occurring nationwide.

“It’s the equivalent of selling apples in the Great Depression,” said Harley Shaiken, chairman of the Center for Latin American studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

It’s grim news from an economic perspective… but there may be a positive outcome, depending on your attitude. While there’s every chance that competing with illegal immigrants for low-dollar work may exacerbate the resentment and racial tensions that certain talk-show hosts love to exploit, in some cases the reverse may occur – citizens brought low by the financial crisis coming to realise that immigrants are people just like them, in other words.

Bernabe said organizers came across one case where a local sheriff had been sending officers to answer complaints about day laborers and then found one day that the sheriff’s neighbor, a citizen, was among them. Police in that area have been less likely to harass laborers since then, he said. These events will occur more, changing people’s attitudes in the process, he said.

“For a long time, people have looked at day laborers and said, ‘The problem is the immigrants.’ Now the economy is changing. Now people may see it’s a problem of the labor market, of the rights of workers,” Bernabe said.

Buchanan, meanwhile, looks forward to a future that includes a steady job and an apartment. “I’m trying to dig my way out of this,” he said. When he does, however, he sees himself as a changed man.

“Before, I was part of the majority. Now I’m part of the minority … I’m not going to forget this. I’m not going to forget any of this.”

It’d be ironic if the recession helped people to realise that the divide that really matters isn’t the border lines drawn on a map, but the invisible one drawn between the poor and the rich – the one that cuts across nationality and ethnicity in every country on the planet. It’d be ironic, but it’d also be the best thing that the recession achieved. What social changes might we see in a country where the poor refuse to be divided and conquered by the rhetoric of the rich? Would the atmosphere of brotherhood last, or would the first signs of recovery herald a return to the status quo?


Downsizing the city

Paul Raven @ 22-06-2009

Abandoned building, Flint, MichiganTough times call for tough decisions: faced with long-term urban decline accelerated by the global economic SNAFU, the US Government is considering razing sections of some failing cities in order to keep them from collapsing. What were once bustling industrial towns  are now underpopulated, underfunded and poorly maintained, and pruning them back like a rosebush might just enable them to survive.

Mr Kildee said he will concentrate on 50 cities, identified in a recent study by the Brookings Institution, an influential Washington think-tank, as potentially needing to shrink substantially to cope with their declining fortunes.

Most are former industrial cities in the “rust belt” of America’s Mid-West and North East. They include Detroit, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Memphis.

In Detroit, shattered by the woes of the US car industry, there are already plans to split it into a collection of small urban centres separated from each other by countryside.

“The real question is not whether these cities shrink – we’re all shrinking – but whether we let it happen in a destructive or sustainable way,” said Mr Kildee. “Decline is a fact of life in Flint. Resisting it is like resisting gravity.”

If things don’t get a lot better very soon, I imagine there will be some small cities that collapse entirely, littering the country with hollow remnants of the late industrial age, a series of Twentieth Century ghost-towns inhabited by wildlife and a few back-to-the-land loners. Meanwhile the larger cosmopolitan centres – anywhere with a diverse enough economy to attract a newly itinerant workforce – will presumably keep growing as the ongoing urbanisation of the world gathers pace.

It’ll be interesting to see whether we’ve gotten much better at urban planning in the last half century or so; many of Britain’s planned cities of the post-war period were less than glowing successes, as the architectural philosophies of the day were based on principles that we’d now consider naive at best. But downsizing for survival is a time-honoured tactic in nature as well as economics; perhaps we’re living in the last days of suburbia. [via Slashdot; image by NESJumpman]


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