Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Bellevue: A Citiy of Tomorrow

Bellevue is a Seattle bedroom community, a republican bastion on the East side of Lake Washington, and one of the more anti-human and unhappy cities in the Northwest region. Beyond the consumerist core of the city center, Bellevue Square, I start to notice fewer and fewer places for humans to walk, fewer and fewer places for humans to talk to one another, until eventually, there are no sidewalks at all and I am competing for space with the sport utility vehicles and tinted town cars.

Some time perhaps during the 1970s, urban-planners in general began a movement that has signaled the city center's destruction, disrupted and rejected any bohemian style of living in favor of taller buildings and more road space. Urban and suburban centers, the new message announced far and wide, were engines of wealth creation and the parading spectacle of the new urban lifestyle.

The aim of the Keynesian city-planner is to lubricate the city for the purpose of extracting credit and increasing the velocity at which money travels from one hand to another. The strategy is to extract wealth from residents and use this flow to attract and subsidize developers to build the city's common areas. The goal is to create a stock of residential bourgeoisie. The city center was to be totally economically liquid. How 'cities' - that is, the planners and council members of general purpose areas - ever got to be in this position as the vanguard for any 'municipality' is the same story as with any nation-state vanguard. I view them much like I would view any armed mafia, except these ones have flags.

Bellevue is ironically rated by Money Magazine as one of the 25 safest cities in America. Crime level equivocates with "safety" all too easily. In these inclement climates, a new architecture, a new planning, and entire areas dedicated to the attitude of anti-human politics were erected at the expense of the human population and their happiness. The cities dispel the homeless, the black and Latino, forbid loiterers and close their doors to the non-consumers. The new centers of city life have but one ultimate purpose, to mechanize the general population and influence the flow of consumption.

Further reading:
Hall, Peter Geoffrey. Cities of Tomorrow: An Intellectual History of Urban Planning and Design in the Twentieth Century. Blackwell Publishing: Malden, MA: 2002.
Plant, Sadie. The Most Radical Gesture: The Situationist International in the Postmodern Age. Routledge. link.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Chivalric Defense of Trusts

There is a phrase Americans use a lot when faced with political opposition and disagreement: "I don't agree with you, but I will defend your right to say it."

(Whether this is true or simply a rhetorical device is less certain. For whatever reason war-supporters say this all too often with regards to the war in Iraq, which demonstrates the same amount of equivocation as was present in the connection between Iraq and al-Qaeda in 2003. As if the terrorists attacked the US in order to limit the speech of leftist American dissenters.)

Since my copy of Windows XP Pro has completely failed in the last few days without recourse to re-installation (during finals week no less!) should I have been thinking along similar lines: "I disagree with your products, but I will defend your right to sell them"?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Variable Spotting, graveyard shift

"Our hypothesis is that a greater incarcerated population as a proportion of the total population indicates a stronger or more effective system of catching and apprehending those engaged in crimes against property. It seems reasonable that states with a well-functioning criminal legal system with respect to property crimes would also exhibit a well-functioning civil legal system."

It's late. I'm caffeinated. And I found this irresistible quote in the Journal, Land Economics, in a paper titled "Property Rights by Squatting" which was published in 2001.

Silly land economists. It seems rather unreasonable, au contraire, to assume that states with a high proportion of incarcerated citizens would exhibit a well-functioning civil legal system to deal with other crimes. To use the highly unjust and discriminatory US prison system as a variable for a study that attempts to estimate the efficiency of adverse possession seems patently naive. Nonetheless, the overall argument of the paper is a reasonable one, that squatter's rights are efficient ways of transferring property titles from previous title-owners to newer owners like squatters who value the land more and hence use the land more efficiently.

However, the higher the prison population simply reflects, at minimum, the willingness of the state to prosecute. It does not reflect any sort of "developed" legal system. One historian at my school studied the increase in juvenile crimes in England after World War II, and concluded that the increase was directly attributable to increased state funds to prosecute, not, as many thought, due to an increase in juvenile delinquency and pot-smoking after the war.

Perhaps a more efficient legal system is one in which settlements take place out of court and not arbitrated by the state. Did the authors ever consider that? The less reliance on legal arbitration there is, assuming non-violent and non-coercive means, the more efficient the overall system of bargaining would be. Communities can have greater gains to efficiency through established customary laws without relying on legal arbitration methods. Their extraneous assumption about legal efficiency would have been better off if it was left out.

To Be Homeless in Pierce County

This was an article I wrote for a blog that some friends and I run, The Melon. Tacoma is the largest city in Pierce County, Washington, though there are sizable jurisdictions just outside the city limits. This article is about homeless issues on the borders of these jurisdictions. I juxtapose two opposing views - one is an activist's view and the other a professor's - though both are seeking to ameliorate homelessness.

Several months ago a Midland community activist, Stacy Emerson, posted a video on YouTube documenting a homeless encampment behind a K-mart just outside Tacoma’s city limits in an unincorporated area of Pierce County. Emerson said she posted the video after months of unproductive interaction with the Pierce County police force regarding the growing encampments. Since the video was posted, all three encampments were cleaned up, one by hand, two by bulldozers.

Emerson told The Melon that she never determined who the children’s clothes seen in the video belong to. The circumstances suggested to Emerson that pedophilic activity was taking place in the encampment. A meth lab in the K-mart encampment was reported to the Pierce County Health Department, and prescription drug containers were reported to Emerson’s Neighborhood Patrol Duty for possible HIPAA violations. She says the encampment’s inhabitants likely took the bottles from K-mart’s dumpster, not from the store itself, but believes K-mart could be liable nonetheless.

Ever since an encampment on Golden Given & 72nd was plowed over two years ago, “campers then migrated across the border into my community,” Emerson says. Her Neighborhood Patrol Duty in Midland has made more than twenty arrests over the last two or three months near the K-mart encampment. The Tacoma Police and other law enforcement agencies may have arrested more too, she says. But the camps were “never ‘explored’ by social services” and the thinly-spread Pierce County police force can only give inadequate attention to the problem.

Richard Anderson-Connolly, Professor at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, says the enforcement of ordinances like anti-panhandling laws is “a micro-level approach to a macro problem. All they can do is move the problem to another jurisdiction.” The burden of addressing underlying structural inequalities, unemployment and mental health are shifted onto other localities since this is “one of their few options.”

“The dominant political paradigm is not only micro but also ‘get tough,’” Anderson-Connolly says, “much like our approach to crime or foreign policy and education.” This tends to serve the interests of the economic elite, produces a lot of “lucrative contracts”, and does not require economic redistribution. Anderson-Connolly argues that the legitimating ideology here is one that blames the victim.

Homelessness in Pierce County has gotten worse according to Emerson, while at the same time in Tacoma homelessness is getting better. Although Emerson agrees with the statement that Tacoma’s ordinances “merely push people into areas away from the city centers”, she believes the adoption of Tacoma-style ordinances would better serve the communities around Tacoma and clean up the homeless encampments in the short run, which she argues is a good strategy until the different jurisdictions can determine better ways to spend taxpayer’s money.

The City of Tacoma’s “crackdown efforts” like anti-panhandling, Alcohol Impact Areas (AIA), Housing First, and Stay Out of Areas of Prostitution (SOAP) have had a “tremendous impact on unincorporated communities,” especially Emerson’s, she says, since it borders the city. But she maintains now it’s time for the unincorporated communities themselves to pass legislation to crackdown on activities that homeless people resort to.

Anderson-Connolly characterizes this “get tough” approach as a prisoner’s dilemma between the non-cooperative jurisdictions. If one city pushes its homeless population out by enforcing these ordinances, other cities have the incentive to do the same in order to avoid the costs of helping people out of homelessness. While the optimal strategy may be for jurisdictions to cooperate effectively, “The high road is essentially blocked the low road equilibrium is the best one could hope for.”

Tacoma chose the “defection” strategy, Anderson-Connolly says, the one that in this case will lower each jurisdiction’s costs regardless of the other players’ strategies. This will most likely force other localities to do the same as Tacoma, “otherwise they get the worse possible outcome.”

While in support of Tacoma’s legal method, Emerson says what is more important is the inadequately-funded mental health program in Pierce County, paid for by the State of Washington. The homeless people she spoke to said they became homeless “as a result of making bad decisions,” and many become “mentally ill as a result of the hard life of homelessness.” The county “has now been without mental health services for almost two years,” having a significant causal impact on homelessness.

Anderson-Connolly is currently researching the Tacoma’s “encampment elimination project,” or what is often called by supporters the “Housing First Project”. When his research is available we’ll post it to The Melon. Emerson is a full-time community activist and says she will stay vigilant on issues regarding homelessness in Pierce County. Her website can be found at LifeInPierceCounty.com.

* picture from the Tacoma News Tribune.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

How Dramaturgs Use Wikis

I produced another instructional technology video, this time about Professor Geoff Proehl's Theatre Arts Department Wiki, which you can find at Oberon.ups.edu. Their department uses MediaWiki software, the same software Wikipedia uses, to work collaboratively on dramaturgical texts and share ideas. The first text that wiki was used for was A Midsummer Night's Dream in 2006. The American dramaturgy community, working across the nation from Seattle and Los Angeles to New York on such texts, is finding wikis helpful for many of its collaborations, so this is an important trend. I use Wikispaces for various collaborations of my own - Wikispaces is free and incredibly easy to setup. My friend Daniel is in China at the moment and we're using wikispaces to write a zine article together.

Dramaturgy Northwest is the other website featured in the video. It hosts an important chronology and history archive for the Literary Managers & Dramaturgs of America (or LMDA.)

Macy's Fashionista Détournement

Another picture set for the Détournement Gallery. These Macy's ads were found by a friend of mine who was browsing through the fashion annual in the Seattle's The Stranger. The issue featured articles about socially-conscious alternative clothing styles interspersed with full-page Macy's détournements. Have a look see -

This is how Macy's and the other big US retailers marked Earth Day, by using the holiday to market its products. And when you buy their earthy hippie necklaces, you get a nice little plastic baggy with it that's forged out of petroleum and takes over a hundred years to break down in a landfill, and you aren't allowed to leave the store without one. That's the magic of Macy's!

Macy's is a champion of social consciousness issues, like gay rights, for example. Which is why when pressured by angry anti-gay activists who opposed their "rainbow" mannequins in Boston, Macy's management quickly stuffed them in the closet. A real slap in the face to Seattle's gay community on Capitol Hill, where most of the featured fashionistas in The Stranger's Fashion Annual were from.

You see, when you buy these high heels you're actually participating in a democratic society because every dollar is a vote, and every vote counts. Also, did you know that when you buy Macy's "faux fur" you may really be buying dog fur? The vertical production chain is so mysterious nobody is ever really sure what they're paying for and where it comes from.

Several years ago there were no Macy's in the Northwest. We had a local retail clothing boutique line called The Bon Marché. That clothing line sprang up after World War II, during the post-war consumer expansion. In 2003 The Bon Marché was bought by Federated, the company that now owns Macy's, and changed the name to "Bon-Macy's". And since 2005 they're all "Macy's". So power to the bosses!

As Seattleites are aware, Macy's prefers non-union workers over unionized ones in its textile factories. Students from UW protested at a Seattle Macy's for busting Guatemalan unions last October. In Mexico, Macy's-hired clothing makers work 24-hour shifts and 5,000 of them were fired when they attempted to organize. You can read more about Macy's fashionista social consciousness on Co-op America.

Or maybe just give 'em a peace of lead.

Buy shoes, support the revolution.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Capitalist-Worker-Owned Capital

I found this comic strip on a communist discussion board. Can you believe this dirty capitalist pig? Sucking the surplus value of labor right off their backs, what nerve.

Don't get me wrong, I love propaganda. But would the workers necessarily have higher wages if they were the owners of that capital? No, I think even a worker-owned production plant would have the same interest in paying average expenditure wages instead of wages that coincide with the marginal expenditures from each additional worker. That is, essentially, the claim that the comic makes.

A more important side-stepped fact in the comic is that there is more to a firm's cost structure than labor alone. Assume the workers bought out the capitalist and paid for the machines themselves - what would happen differently? I believe (a) they would still allocate labor and wages at a profit-maximizing equilibrium if they are at all concerned about keeping their spreadsheets and accounting balances in order, and (b) they would essentially be entrepreneurs and venture capitalists themselves, renting capital that other workers had made.

And isn't the point of the worker revolution so that workers own capital, thus becoming capitalists too?

Worker-owned production is a very positive way to organize labor and capital. Yet the arguments like the one above are evidence of nonsensical misunderstandings of factor markets and marginal productivity. It assumes way too much about the current allocations. Maybe I am just picking bones with the simplified version I see above.

Capitalists and workers are pitted against each other in non-collusive ways such that each worker has the incentive to extract as much from total revenue in the short run as possible. If the firm fails, workers can typically find new jobs; on the other hand, capitalists still have sunk costs to loathe and fixed costs to pay for. Unless workers are themselves capitalists or share interests with the capitalist class, their interests will always be in direct conflict with the capitalists over the firm's cost structure. So long as they have no stake in the long-term decision making process.

Thursday, May 08, 2008


I never liked the sounds of the techno genre "breakcore" since to me it sounds too choppy, too cut up, and too extreme. The kick drum is usually excessive, and the snares very echoey. Mochipet, for example. The breakcore sub-genre has split into endless divisions in recent years: 'wafflecore', 'flappercore', 'operacore', 'donkeycore', etc. Most of it is impossible to dance to, an expression of pure experimentation. It is often ridiculously boundary-pushing and musically incomprehensible.


I find that even with styles I have come to dislike there is usually a gateway artist whom I find very interesting. I have found some of the most interesting and mellow sounds from Oregon recently, because Oregon is hyper mellow, very exotic, and is where some of the coolest cats in Cascadia reside. That's where Kixotek (from Corvallis) comes in. I heard Kixotek (pronounced 'kiggz ottik' or 'kicks-o-tech'?) mix a very flavorful breakcore session in Seattle a few months ago at Kinetic III in the memorable "Prehistoric Chickenhed Dowtempo" room, where the Seattle Science Center's movable dinosaur models swayed back and forth under the trippy light systems. So if it was love, it was only love for a small cross-section of the breakcore genre.

Which brings me to yesterday. Yesterday I mixed some of Kixotek's tracks for a mellow last day of classes at my school. It was a very flavorful grilled-sandwich-and-fries session in front of my student union building. The student affairs office was hosting a BBQ and requested that the student-run radio station (KUPS) play downtempo for the ambiance. The choice of downtempo was chosen so as to not disturb the stress-free massages.

Downtempo, breakcore, same difference right? My friend David (AKA The Chaosthetic) asked me if I wanted to mix at 4:00 p.m., and of course I said yes. The stressed-out students, eating their lunches and conversing with one another, stared blankly at me for choosing breakcore. They probably wanted something more Cancún-ish. Fuck that. The music I chose was dark, heavy, and gloomy, with organic textures laid progressively on top of the breaks. I have no regrets. Kixotek's tracks are an excellent blend of Indian-influenced bongo drumming and chilled synthesizing. That's what is so appealing about it for me: that and it mixes well to anything with ambiance. It sounded very surreal especially with the extra delay and break effects I laid on top of it. And I got a free back massage out of it!

Listen to Ouroboros on his myspace, and check out the art on his webpage.

Cheating the Chaos

"When a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully."

- Samuel Johnson.
One of the disturbing things about death is that it is usually the cause of tremendous fear and anxiety. Or more generally people call this stress. One psychiatrist, George Vaillant, who has studied the stress and depression of Harvard graduates (the most depressed people on the planet, obviously) proposes two basic ways people "cope" with stress: there is a mature defense which he calls the "transformational coping" mechanism and a neurotic defense which he calls the "regressive coping" mechanism.

It's pretty simple. Either you keep your cool by suppressing anxiety, analyze the problem logically, and reassess your priorities - or you withdraw into yourself, sleep late, deny yourself, and avoid thinking about your problems.

It is worth noting that both of these defenses are strategies or devices for dealing with stress. Everything is identified in the literature as a "mechanism", not a solution. On one level, Vaillant describes his findings in purely empirical terms - the patient did x, y, and z when they were faced with stressful situations. But on another level, both defenses are normative devices for what psychologist Csikszentmihalyi called "cheating the chaos". In order to overcome depressive neurosis, you must do a, b, and c, so you can be essentially 'normal' again.

Most underdeveloped depressions (I say 'underdeveloped' on purpose) will gladly take popular psychiatric advice as it is presented. But as a set of devices for overcoming depression, "positive thinking" is basically a trick. Like the "soma" that the people in the book A Brave New World drink, psychiatric devices are ways to keep us thinking about things other than death: our cars, our jobs, our bosses, our deadlines.

What the psychologists don't seem to realize is that "cheating the chaos" is not really a mechanism you can use to cheat other mechanisms with. It is simply the will of one mechanism over the will of another. This is an important philosophically Nietzschean point. Nietzsche said in Beyond Good and Evil that, "the will to overcome emotion is ultimately the will of one emotion over another."

So if you're depressed beyond the boundaries and understandings of popular psychiatric advice, you'd probably say to your Ph.D. psychiatrist that he is just giving you another stupid fucking mechanism to overcome your state of depression. He can never give a way to "cheat" the chaos. Even a pill like Prozac must be another mechanism.

This is why it is becoming more popular these days in Europe to have "philosophical counseling". For someone struggling to determine which mechanisms will eventually win in a psychic battle for the perseverance of their soul, he or she needs another person like them to help them cheat the chaos together. (People pay good money to be counseled philosophically, and yet, here I am providing it for free on this blog.)

All you need to do is one of the following: shoot a bubble of air into your veins and kill yourself - or, reject the world order and become absolutely free to dance that shit away. This is just another mechanism, of course. It is ultimately the will of one order-imposing paradigm over another. Yes, and so is everything else, like "facing the abyss" or "overcoming man". Even Nietzsche, so bitten by the snake of philosophy, recognizes his own devices.

At this point in your despair it is impossible to reject the thesis that you can rely on something transcendent to overcome anything - like God, science, and morality - and inevitable that your mind ultimately cannot function without imposing order into your thoughts and onto the world. But just like an illness that spurs creativity, so is our despair like an engine of creativity, the billowing smoke stack telling the 19th Century that 'progress' was being made. But ultimately it was not understood. So it is impossible to understand your unconscious drives and attitudes alone and without perspective. It needs to be a dialectical process.

The man sitting in his cell waiting to be hanged is also using a mechanism to overcome despair. Perhaps at that point in his life, he embraces his despair and this concentrates his mind - like Mersault in The Stranger death concentrates his mind, generates creativity, makes him into a stronger person. Beyond the mild despair of wantonly 'using' any false techniques, false devices, or false strategies of the popular psychiatrists that will help him overcome depression or despair, he wipes it all away with a brand new thought: Hey guess what, I'm going to fucking die!

How morbid, and yet how ultimately satisfying. It is satisfying because it is not 'inauthentic', a word the Jean Paul Sarte used to describe human behavior. The philosophers and psychologists have been counseling the planet for centuries now on how to deal with death and how to prepare yourself for it eventually. Today a new wave of futurists are excited about the prospects of immortality through human enhancement technologies, thus eliminating the problem of death altogether. They call themselves the transhumanists. But this is the ultimate 'inauthentic' strategy for cheating the chaos. It very openly another version of the desire to become immortal and escape death altogether.

As the prospect of real death looms, the man who is going to be hanged in a fortnight is walking the razor's thin edge. His mind becomes sharper, more potent, perhaps more authentic. All these other devices - God, science, and morality - teach us to hate or escape the inevitable. Popular psychiatric advice teaches us to hide our despair under the guise of, ironically, revealing it. The snake of philosophy teaches us, as Seneca once said of the poets, to love what the rest of humanity hates the most: death.

Are we still cheating the chaos? If we assume that despair is necessary, and that any will to overcome despair is "cheating", then yes. On the other hand, if we become really good at understanding our despair, loving it, using it as a fusion to generate ideas and creativity, then I say we become more wise, more snake-like, slithering through the confusion that besets the rest of humanity with ease and agility.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Korean Cold War in Leaflets

According to historians, 2.5 billion propaganda leaflets were dropped by American aircraft in the Korean peninsula during the Cold War.

A new South Korean museum called "Memories of Propaganda" opened in April and includes 700 of these so-called "paper bombs" North & South Korea and the United States. Since collecting the leaflets during the Cold War was considered illegal in both states, some of the older leaflets dating back to the 50s are very rare. The debris from the Cold War are collector's items - the owner, Jin Yong-seon, recalls in a NYTimes article - like what chips from the Berlin Wall are to Germans. In this North Korean leaflet pictured left, for example, Roh Tae Woo, one of South Korea's former presidents during the 90s, kneels before James Lilley (the American Ambassador in Seoul) to take his orders.

When Jin was younger, he found these leaflets scattered all over the hills where he grew up. "If we found them, we were supposed to report them to the police station. We got comic books, pencils or sweets as a reward." As he collected them over the years, the museum began to develop.

Much of the propaganda is easy to understand pictorially, but many of it relies on culturally-specific understandings. Much of the North Korean propaganda relies on the power of proverbs, sayings, and folklore characters to dismiss South Korean and American propaganda. For example, North Korean propagandists dismiss Washington's charges against its nuclear weapons program with the saying: "The dog barks, but the caravan continues." (Why stop the revolution for that silly dog who barks at everything?)

Both sides, however, use propaganda that promises defectors "cash, houses, medals and women," the NYTimes reports. One North Korean defector said when he saw a naked woman on a South Korean leaflet that he "would never see such a thing in North Korea. But it also reinforced our indoctrination that South Koreans were depraved capitalists."

One leaflet (shown above) depicts Communist soldiers being shot as they try to invade the South. The leaflet below it boasts of the miracles of capitalism, showing South Koreans vacationing on beaches and trumpeting the number of cars produced in the South. It seems neither side saw their own propaganda as much as they saw the enemy's, perhaps they did not see it at all. There is hardly any way to compare the accuracy of the enemy's boastful propaganda, inasmuch as you would need to defect in order to verify it. The South Korean propaganda, however, seems more effective in that it critiqued the North Korean economic system, sent American dollars in the leaflets, and enticed men with provocative images.

Perhaps that merely reflects on the effectiveness of state communist propaganda in general - it's never very effective. The old Soviet films, the posters, the contrived parades and silly reenactments of revolutionary history: none of it is really as effective as the self-sustaining spectacle in capitalist societies. Christian missionaries, corporate advertising, the constant development and performance of the spectacle in all its manifestations: news, images, culture, music, lifestyle, art, sex, etc. have done more to spread the message of capitalism than the capitalist governments have, and this works to its advantage. Poor communists and peasant societies can hardly resist.

View ten slides from the archive here.