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Civil Energetics

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This. [May. 25th, 2009|12:48 pm]
Civil Energetics

Clay Shirky on cognitive surplus

A few things about this pop out at me. He mentions documenting failure: I was just looking at a kayak build that was carefully photographed and captioned, where the builder called it a failure and is looking forward to trying again. When an institution tries something and fails, the impulse it to erase it from history. When an individual does this, there's the option to play the clown and turn that lesson into art.

I like the idea of constructing mental frameworks for things that haven't been invented yet, but they might. If they never come about, you've got an empty science-fictioney skeleton laying about. If these inventions do occur, then you've got the means to glue put them together exactly when they need to be plugged in, and you're at the center of the next big thing.

For a long time, humans have been of value to other humans mostly for the labor we can do. Dumb robot-work. Our love, our ideas, our fashions and gossip- this was all waste material, to be thrown out before it could interfere with our work.

...Kind of the way that gasoline was once a useless waste product left over from making kerosene. Or Bacon was the worst part of a pig, recovering the last little scraps of what might be useful.

Wikipedia could come to represent the best of who we are and what we have to offer each other, once the dumb robot labor aspect takes its proper place.
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property rights [May. 19th, 2009|12:27 pm]
Civil Energetics

I've been watching a lot of Ken Burns lately: we saw The Civil War, and then The War (second world war), and I've been trying to connect the dots. What kind of story links those two disputes?

From a purely military perspective, it seems that by 1945, tactics had finally caught up with the weapons, at least at the level of the soldier in his foxhole. The Great war of 1914 was kind of a repeat of 1862, in terms of what the generals didn't understand.

But on a political level, there's still a larger story trying to worm its way into my head, having to do with why people get caught up in such avoidable mayhem.

It's pretty clear that if Slavery was really at the core of the 1862 fracas, then it was at a subconscious level. The south didn't arm itself to defend from the north, it armed itself because its property wanted to wander. The fear of slave uprising came before resentment of northern imperialism. And the north wasn't doing a hell of a lot better with chaining its paid workers to their stations, and forcing children to work instead of letting them go to school.

I want to rewrite an alternate history where the war between the states may have lasted quite a bit longer, but at the end of hostilities, there wouldn't be another hundred years of American apartheid in the south.

If a human being was finally granted ownership of his own body in 1865, he still did not get to have ownership of the life support systems that allow him to thrive. And that condition persists today.

Life, Inc. makes a case for local currencies, and ending the charted monopolies that have grown into the modern multinational. I think somewhere in all this, is a mathematical value that needs to be defined.

Property and other things of value cannot always be held by the individual, and it would be silly to try. Private corporations don't and shouldn't monopolize national borders. But neither should they monopolize school textbooks. The corporatist movement seems to be making an argument to me about the nature of the world, something like, "the nation" is too large, too diffuse a body to own most kinds of property, and the corporation can be smarter and faster. Let's dump regulatory laws in favor of the market"

On the far end of this spectrum is an old survivalist strategy from the '60s and before: "let's get away from the corrupt city and live on our own in the wilderness, and let the land teach us what we need to know"

Corporatist reality give me too little freedom, and back to the land is actually bad for the planet and is too much work. Somewhere between those extremes is a happy medium where I can freely interact with my peers, and my neighbors, and create value in a way that doesn't involve entities whose morals I mistrust.

The human animal is still trying to domesticate itself. In 1862, the unit measure was small enough to sort-of understand. An individual human could be separated from its family at the whim of its owner, and mistreated property would bear the bruises and scars of rough handling.

These days, the individual human cannot be so easily removed from its blood kin, but "the mobile labor force' means that commodity housing is the only kind of home we will ever know, and we will only ever have rented access to our life support systems, be they shelter, water, food, or medical.

The scars of neglect don't show much on our bodies, it's what we lack in our minds. How many of us remember growing stuff from seed, and then eating what we've grown? How many of us are still on speaking terms with our parents who are still together, and our siblings, whose lives have a common cause to ours? In the States, we often can't remember that there was ever a different way to meet social needs, or that other places are still meeting these needs differently right now.

I think that mathematical value will only be found as people decide for themselves who they'll cooperate with, and who they'll resist.
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(in the heart of) Deepest Suburbia [Mar. 30th, 2009|12:26 pm]
Civil Energetics

It's hard sometimes to contain my resentment with a certain state of affairs. I've accepted life with The Child as part of my reality these days. The Child needs special educational considerations that are in short supply or nonexistent in most school districts. He's got a decent setup, though, at Kenmore Jr high where he's going now.

For the time being, then, until he 'graduates' from KJH, we're best served to remain in this district.

You know the worst thing about "white privilege", as far as I'm concerned? It's having to getting to live in vast expanses of single family residential tract houses where there's nothing interesting to walk to, and no real reason to get to know the neighbors.

I just found out my doorbell doesn't work. Why do houses have doorbells any more? The only person who uses the doorbell is the UPS guy. And thinking back on it, the only other times this door has been knocked on, has been to let us know about the dog getting loose, my headlights being left on, and door-to-door salesmen wanting attention.

I wonder how many doorbells in America right now do not work? And of these, I wonder how long since they did? Are the owners of these doorbells in any position to notice, or care?

Yesterday I walked the dog past a gated community and sighed- I don't think I'd notice much difference if we lived behind a fence like that.

Calling it "white" privilege does the idea disservice: There's nothing intrinsically racist about geographic class. { I'm thinking about the ways different ecologies are mapped apart from each other, I think the blurry boundaries are precisely represented with ecotones} We can share our dismal suburban blandness with any color of family that has got the money to move in. It's the way school districts are financed, and the way they're used to maintain the social classes in their present geography - that's what I'd like to talk about. But I'm white, so I'm not supposed to complain about this kind of "privilege".
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social classroom [Mar. 26th, 2009|09:37 am]
Civil Energetics

I noticed something about This definition of class compared to this one

Where people are concerned, it's important that one social class be oppressing another.

On the scale of micro-politics, I've seen it play out way too many times: "We're electing you our leader so we have someone to whine about and rail against. You don't get our cooperation when things go well, but when things go badly, we'll know who to blame".

When people clump up into social class, it's largely voluntary. I think that's important to remember. If we tell ourselves that we're dong it out of self-preservation, that those bad people over there are *making* us clump together, then it makes it easier for us to piss on them later on, when we decide to blame the other for our problems.
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Theory of Justice [Mar. 17th, 2009|01:15 pm]
Civil Energetics

I've been feeling a slow rumbling of anger, coming up from the gut. It began when I watched John Stewart interviewing Jim Cramer. And it occured to me that this was just a pale shadow of Nixon/Frost all over again. If those in power get their way, Bernard Madoff is going to be the representative scapegoat for all these shenanagins.

I'm sensing a pattern here. After Watergate, Nixon is forced from power but never prosecuted. His brain trust steps out of the limelight, only to be hired back by Reagan.

The Savings and Loan meltdown puts a dent in the economy and multiplies the national debt, but no one goes to jail. I think a $50,000 fine was the worst thing anyone had to suffer for it.

Enron manages to destabilize the state government of California, putting Gray Davis out of office and replacing him with a bodybuilder/movie star. So far, the only person to serve time has been Jeff Skilling.

What really strikes me about the financial meltdown, is how avoidable it all was. I've had it explained to me about six different ways, and there's nothing particularly mysterious about where the money came from and where it all went. The only real mystery, is why america seems so reluctant to punish its white collar criminals, no matter how much damage they wreak.

My lust for blood here, is tempered by knowing that this remains merely a crime against property. The wealth of the country has been raided, but no one was directly, physically attacked, not in the way Rodney King or Oscar Grant were attacked. But does it take that much imagination to connect these crimes? And how can one begin to suggest any sort of remedy, beyond reflexively lashing out?

Back in the WTO protests, I had my nose rubbed in the difference between property crime and violence against the person. What I eventually decided was that I lust for neither. The violence I wanted to do then, (and still want to do now) is to the credibility and reputation of the institutions that permit this kind of nonsense. It's a very tall order indeed, when these intelligences can change their appearance at will, and make anything they say seem to stick, just by saying it loudly and expensively enough.

My biggest worry right now is that the Federal government will find it cannot cover this large a bet, and the hyperinflation from bailing out these turkeys will indeed make government small and weak enough to drown in the bathtub. In the same way Jeff Skilling was able to topple Governor Davis, Jim Cramer will have toppled the Obama presidency.

{If that sounds like a crock of shit, ask yourself what made WTC building seven collapse, or where that magic bullet could have come from?)

The most hopeful idea I can entertain right now, is that the upcoming April 11 protests can have the effect that that February 15 prostst somehow failed to have.
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A modern walled city [Nov. 22nd, 2008|01:27 pm]
Civil Energetics

This is probably going to sound like a goofy, impractical idea- you've been forewarned.

I've been reading up on the electoral college here in the States, and I found out that the number of congress critters in the house wasn't always capped at 435. They used to expand the congress according to a formula, based on each population census. But in the early 1900's, the building they meet in was too small to add any more representatives, so in 1911, the number was capped at our present 435.

No one has thought to put a cap on the lobbyists who court these congress critters, though. They have to register, so we know how many of those are working: that number is 30,000- up from 15,000 just a few years ago.

For every people's representative, there are over 60 corporate and special interest representatives trying to get a word in edgewise. Is it any wonder that corporate interests have more governmental attention than the public good?

With the new president fixing to enter the white house, I'm watching old West Wing episodes, and trying to imagine what it must be like to share ones house with the federal government. (The way things have been going, we should all be giving this some thought, no matter who is in office!) I know that if my home were also a place where public tours were given, I'd want to have a pretty good home security system in place.

Let's take that idea another level of zoom, to include the house and senate. Right now, a public interest agenda has got to compete with a well funded army of corporate mouthpieces. If you want meaningful access to government, you have got to pay for it.

I would like to see the capital building expanded to hold enough representatives for the 1910 formula to still be used. Depending on how you interpret the rules, that would make congress anywhere from 1500 to 6,000 members strong. If that sounds impractical and excessive, consider the size of the nation they are expected to manage. Has the American agenda simplified any in the last hundred years, have we somehow become easier to manage?

If the capitol building were expanded to something the size of the pentagon, it could house a much larger congress. And if that wasn't considered practical, then the lobby of the capital could be made into a restricted zone, where the only people allowed were those with a legitimate business with the government.

It sounds almost draconian, going against a long tradition of 'open' access, but I don't think there's any other way to get the people's work done, except to give the people's representatives some breathing room.

This sounds a lot like the measures already in place and being considered to keep terrorists from causing mischief, I'm just suggesting we expand the filter a bit, to include corporate mischief. I think maybe if representative democracy were given more than lip service, we wouldn't need such a big Pentagon.

You might object and think that the only people allowed into this new walled city would be those who'd bribed the right people. But that's already true today. I can't see any other way for my voice as a citizen to begin to compete with those businessman voices.(like the ones today, demanding bailout protection...)
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De-militerizing space [Oct. 16th, 2008|11:47 am]
Civil Energetics

The Chinese are launching their own GPS sats. Which scares me in a way that tweaks my species-loyalty, if not my national loyalty.

What this would mean in practice, is that they could use their GPS system for operations independent of the U.S., which launched and controls the satellite array right now.

I'm not happy with any foreign relations model that puts white America at the top of the system, making us the cops of the world... but I also don't like prospect of putting any sort of technological hostage in the sky either... With a GPS system of their own, the Chinese might well be tempted to try to disable ours, if it came to that. And we already have too much space junk as it is. A major satellite warfare campaign could make Low Earth Orbit unusable for future generations.

This might sound naive, but I think a truly global satellite system, under the control of the U.N. security council, would make for more stability than this boondoggle of a space station we've got now. It wouldn't stop a potential trouble maker (The US, or a European Union member) from using their own sats for gps, but it would reduce the need for redundancy on the international front, and put more weight on the political end of things.

I could even imagine a scenario where two warring nations are both using the same satellite network for their own combat opps against each other. Sure, war is bad and all that, but this would fall under the category of, "harm reduction".

Global warming reminds us that however much we like or dislike each other, we're still sharing a temperate atmosphere. The more these shared resources can be made political goals instead of military goals, the more stable everything will be going into an uncertain future.
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Dancing about architecture [Oct. 3rd, 2008|08:59 am]
Civil Energetics

"writing about music is like dancing about architecture"... Except that sometimes, such a dance actually kind of makes sense...


This hack won't look right from very many angles, I think: too far away from the sweet spot, and the shadows will seem quite wrong. But the overall effect makes me think of the dancing building in Rainbow's End.
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Someplace between the individual and the world population [Aug. 31st, 2008|11:15 am]
Civil Energetics

I just had a disturbing thought. Lately I've been thinking about what it means to own something, specifically, to own the land on which your bed rests at night, to own the garden plot that helps grow your food, owning the water rights that keep you from getting thirsty.

And even, owning one's own body. Images of one's own face. The intellectual property embodied inside one's DNA.

And the disturbing thought happened when I crossed those ideas with, "Property Ownership can never be absolute".

That's all well and good when you're talking about burglery, car theft, or corporate responsibility. But is ownership of one's own self (including the body, but other intangibles like career, destiny, stuff like that) subject to the same limit?

And I wouldn't mind being wrong here, but I think ownership of one's self *is* limited. Never mind chattel slavery or wage slavery, I'm thinking about the ancient necessity of posting a guard while the camp sleeps, all the way to the military draft.

It's not usually that dire: Mostly I think about community obligations when it comes to other people's children. Unless I'm firmly rooted in the idea that humanity should end with this generation, I'm ethically obligated to attend to things like paying school taxes and not jaywalking in front of parents with small children in tow.

Usually when we talk about a "community value", it means an idea about the world that everyone in the community ios supposed to share in order to keep going. But that can also be turned around: how much do you value the community in which you find yourself, and what are the ways you show that it matters?

(This is coming up a lot for me since LiveJournal started posting ads on people's pages. We are creating content that attracts other eyeballs, and advertisers want a share of those eyeballs. But the money from those ads doesn't come back to the creators of that content, it goes to the people who provide the chalkboard for us to write on. Should I be demanding a slice of the ad revenue, or can I assert that my ideas are not to be served up with animated billboards attached? (most likely, I can take my idea-trading elsewhere.)

The members of this community have our own choices to make about what kind of branding we'll tolerate on our ideas. The management of this electronic space have made their choices known, about what the community is worth to them. I'll concede that as soon as my words get out the keyboard, they stop being mine in the same sense as before. But what happens after that has got plenty of room for reasonable people to disagree.

The same kind of issue is faced by any community pondering the addition of a Wal-mart, or any remote village whose water supply is being privatized. Folks should be able to trade with other folks across the planet, but the actual trade-offs need to not be buried under a mountain of fine print.

I think where this might be going, is a social contract written as a kind of creative commons license. When the contract is observed, there is verifiable informed consent. When it's breached, older, more feudal rules come into play. There'd be an obligation upon the community to notice when such a contract has been breached.
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Though experiment re: empire [Aug. 3rd, 2008|12:07 pm]
Civil Energetics

From time to time, I find myself thinking absurd thoughts that nonetheless take me interesting places. The last time I took one seriously, I concluded there was really only one reason I might want to live any longer than the standard fourscore and ten: It would be worth the hassle in order to gain a deep understanding of trees, the way they communicate and grow. Other than that, a standard lifetime seems more than enough to learn everything interesting about the world.

After watching

I got to thinking about the evil genius model of world domination, and what I would do with the world if I could somehow manage to take it over in the way that comic villains like to do.

Asking this question taught me something about the idea of ownership. We like to think that owning something means that we are bigger than the thing owned. If I can own a dog, it means I'm a bigger, more complex creature than the dog. The ownership of human beings is only possible by assuming the owned humans are less than the owners.

On the smaller scale, I see the way ownership works both ways: Saying that these items belong to me, is also a statement of responsibility toward these items. All this crap in my garage becomes less mine if I can no longer keep it out of the rain.

Looking at the lifestyles of the very rich, it's interesting how much of their wealth and attention needs to be devoted to keeping their wealth from being taken away from them. If there's a 'sweet spot' on the wealth scale, I think it has to do with how wealthy one can become before paranoia kicks in.

But let's kick up a few scales of magnitude, and imagine the world could be owned by a single human being. Probably through the use of some kind of magic gold ring, or some other improbable MacGuffin. And I imagine I could be that human being. What would likely happen?

It doesn't take a lot of imagination to see the bad parts of all this. Power corrupts, absolute power... But the mechanism of that is kind of interesting. The way it came to me the other day, was that if I could own the world, I would still be much smaller than the world I held title to. It would be like that evil sword in the Larry Niven story: I might think I was the one doing the owning, but I'd actually be the owned entity.

A more interesting question, is what I would do with that scale of power if I had it. It seems obvious that rather than enslave myself, I'd be far better off trying to alter the trajectory of the world in a way that makes life easier for me.

Which in turn, puts me back in the Dr. Horrible frame of mind, doubtful that the world is smart enough to manage on its own without my help. The whole conceit of the evil genius, is that they alone are smart enough to know the right thing to do.

At which point, the ball goes right off the field. There are reasons that the world is the way it is, and if you give people any credit for knowing what the hell they're doing, then it's necessary to explain why we so often act against our own best interests. The only thing I can think of to say that still fits on this page, is an idea about how good things can possibly get. Right now, the world is owned by people who can imagine things being only so good, and no better. Since it's a zero-sum game for them, in order for things to be good for them and theirs, it's got to be bad for those outside the circle of caring. This is why it's so important to draw a distinction between people who matter and people who don't matter as much. (reminds me of those earlier arguments regarding slavery)
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