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Archive for the ‘community’ Category

How We Punish People for Being Poor by Rebecca Vallas

In community, economy, human rights, North America, society on October 13, 2014 at 23:10

From: How We Punish People for Being Poor by Rebecca Vallas, Common Dreams, http://www.commondreams.org

In what seems a reprisal of the predatory practices that led up to the subprime mortgage crisis, low-income individuals are being sold auto loans at twice the actual value of the car, with interest rates as high as 29 percent. They can end up with monthly payments of $500—more than most of the borrowers spend on food in a month, and certainly more than most can realistically afford. Many dealers appear in essence to be setting up low-income borrowers to fail.

Dealers are also making use of a new collection tool called a “starter-interrupter device” that allows them not only to track a borrower’s movements through GPS, but to shut off a car with the tap of a smartphone—which many dealers do even just one or two days after a borrower misses a payment. One Nevada woman describes the terrifying experience of having her car shut off while driving on the freeway. And repossession of their cars is far from the end of the line for many borrowers; they can be chased for months and even years afterward to pay down the remainder of the loan.

Also worth noting is the criminalization of poverty and the high costs that result. In a nationwide trend documented by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, a growing number of states and cities have laws on the books that may seem neutral—prohibiting activities such as sidewalk-sitting, public urination, and “aggressive panhandling”—but which really target the homeless. (The classic Anatole France quote comes to mind: “The law in its majestic equality forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal bread.”)

Arresting a homeless person for public urination when there are no public bathroom facilities is not only a poor use of law enforcement resources, it also sets in motion a vicious cycle: The arrested individual will be unable to afford bail, as well as any fees levied as punishment, and nonpayment of those fees may then land him back in jail.

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Reposted with permission from: Common Dreams

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Aokigahara by Tony Mckenna

In anthropology, Asia, community, society, sociology on April 3, 2014 at 23:57

From: Aokigahara: A place where people come to end their lives by Tony Mckenna, Adbusters, https://www.adbusters.org

For you are in Aokigahara — and Aokigahara is a place where people come to end their lives. It is estimated that one hundred people die here each year. The ribbons are a precaution; if the person who is contemplating suicide changes their mind at the last moment, he or she will be able to find their way back to the world of the living once more. Ribbons are required because compasses simply don’t function in this place. Something about the iron concentration in the ground interferes with them — though inevitably, such naturalistic explanation has been superseded by all types of supernatural ones; the forest is so spooky and still, it is hard not to infer the ghostly presence of all the souls that have perished here.

… The more modern modes of suicide are, therefore, an expression of alienation; if anything, the act of killing oneself in a group allows the alienated individual to experience a single, ultimate act of ‘purpose’ through a level of social integration which the uncertainty and fragmentation of modern existence has denied them. If the excess of internalized ‘shafu’ provides an impetus toward suicide, its lack can also provide a singular drive toward self-immolation. Among the new generation in Japan today, it is the depth and intensity of isolation, of alienation, which more and more allows them to heed the Suicide Forest’s siren calls.

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Reposted with permission from: Adbusters

On Water Scarcity and the Right to Life: Bolivia by Emma Strother

In business, community, ethics, human rights, society, South America on September 24, 2013 at 00:39

From: On Water Scarcity and the Right to Life: Bolivia by Emma Strother, Council on Hemispheric Affairs, http://www.coha.org

Water is arguably the substance most important to maintaining life on earth. At the mountainous center of South America, Bolivia’s complex struggles with the scarcity and commodification of water captured worldwide attention at the turn of the twenty-first century. Symbolizing the denial of a basic human right, privatization of water provoked mass mobilization and dramatic social reform throughout the country. Today, Bolivia’s lingering water scarcity reveals instability in the wake of the ‘Water Wars,’ and the ongoing challenge of resource allocation that the Morales Administration currently faces.

Rising water prices precipitated the conflict by denying basic human rights protection to vulnerable communities. In 1997, the World Bank refused to renew $600 million USD of debt relief to Bolivia unless the country agreed to privatize water. World Bank decision-makers reasoned that putting water in the private sector would help to broadly stimulate the Bolivian economy. [1] Shortly thereafter, officials in the city of Cochabamba sold its municipal water company SEMAPA to the transnational consortium Aguas del Tunari, controlled by U.S. company Bechtel. Bechtel increased water rates for SEMAPA customers to $20 USD monthly, a 35 to 50 percent increase. The new rates were exorbitant to many Cochabambans, who made an average of only $100 per month. [2] Tensions rose even higher when a local law extended Bechtel’s control of water resources to the city’s southern expansion and surrounding rural communities, regions outside of SEMAPA jurisdiction.

A diverse group of civilian protestors coordinated their response to these unjust policies in a historic movement that framed water privatization as a violation of basic human rights. Citizens of Cochabamba and surrounding communities formed an “alliance of farmers, factory workers, rural and urban water committees, neighborhood organizations, students, and middleclass professionals in opposition to water privatization.” [3] Early leaders of the movement included activist and writer Oscar Olivera who earned the 2001 Goldman Environmental Prize for his role in the protests. [4] Evo Morales, then an organizer of rural workers in Chapare, traveled to Cochabamba with a coalition of activists to support civic strikes, roadblocks, and vast popular assemblies. These protests expanded to include issues of unemployment and the economy, causing President Hugo Banzer to declare a “state of emergency” on April 8, 2000. [5] At the height of civil unrest, a citywide strike disrupted transportation, news media, and industry for four days. The Bolivian government offered La Paz police officers a 50 percent pay raise to encourage speedy and aggressive crackdowns on the demonstrations. Throughout the protest period, 110 protestors and 51 policemen were injured, and 200 demonstrators were arrested. Nine violent deaths were attributed to the social unrest. [6] The privatization of water in Bolivia incited these protests by making access to water, and therefore to life, conditional on wealth in a district overwhelmingly known for its poverty.

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Reposted with permission from: COHA

Burning Man is the New Capitalism by PJ Rey

In community, economy, North America, politics, society, sociology on September 9, 2013 at 16:12

From: Burning Man is the New Capitalism by PJ Rey, The Society Pages, http://thesocietypages.org

While there is much to discuss regarding the significant place that Burning Man occupies in the lives of its participants, I’d like to focus on the complex social and economic relationship Burning Man has with the default world and how this relationship reflects the changing nature of capitalism in the 21st Century. Let’s start by examining two key principals:

Gifting
Burning Man is devoted to acts of gift giving. The value of a gift is unconditional. Gifting does not contemplate a return or an exchange for something of equal value.

Decommodification
In order to preserve the spirit of gifting, our community seeks to create social environments that are unmediated by commercial sponsorships, transactions, or advertising. We stand ready to protect our culture from such exploitation. We resist the substitution of consumption for participatory experience.

By elevating gifting as a virtue, Burning Man distinguishes itself from the default world which is dominated by transactional relationships between people who have no personal connection to one another. (For example, the bagger at the grocery store sees customers as largely interchangeable and the customer also sees baggers as largely interchangeable. To each the other is just a means to an ends.) Gifting is, ostensibly, about putting the needs of the other above oneself.

The principle of decommodification attempts to further separate human interaction at Burning Man from market logic. In fact, the description of the principle of decommodification even employs a Marxist concept: exploitation. (Though in the strict Marxist sense, culture cannot be exploited, only labor.)

Because no money is exchanged at Burning Man* and because gifting and decommodification are key principles of the community, Burning Man is often described as “outside the system” or anti-capitalist. However, the notion that Burning Man opposes capitalism is misguided, if not naive. In a recent interview with TechCrunch’s Gregory Ferenstein, Burning Man founder Larry Harvey spoke to this point, insisting, “We’re not building a Marxist society.” While Ferenstein’s interview highlights the comfortable relationship that Burning Man has with capitalism (particularly Silicon Valley-based enterprises), Ferenstein oddly concludes that what it opposes, instead, is consumerism.

Were Burning Man’s goal to get people to consume less, it would be failing miserably. Anyone who has traveled the Reno Airport to Black Rock Desert circuit knows that an enormous consumer economy has evolved around the event. From the second you step off the plane through the very last Native American reservation before Black Rock City, advertisements suffuse the landscape, offering a wide array of commodities (bikes, tents, glowing el wire, “Indian tacos,” water, etc.) and services (e.g., rides to the Playa). And, all this pales in comparison to the vast amounts of consumer spending done in advance of the events. Camps from every major US city fill shipping containers with supplies and haul them to the desert on 18-wheelers. Many of the gifts given at Burning Man were first bought via the market economy. Burning Man’s principle of “radical self-reliance” often feeds a “get the gear” mentality of hyper-preparation, encouraging attendees to purchase supplies for every contingency they may encounter in the (admittedly harsh) desert conditions.

“Participatory experiences” alone will not shield 50,000 people from the sun or protect them from dust. It won’t even produce a fashionable pair of furry leggings or tutu. The Burning Man experience is the product of tens (or even hundreds) of millions of dollars flowing into the consumer economy and is inextricably linked to disposable incomes of Silicon Valley’s digerati. (It is also this requisite spending that keeps Burning Man as an exclusive and relatively privileged event.)

Larry Harvey’s pro-capitalist sentiments are surprising not because people misunderstand Burning Man but because people misunderstand modern capitalism. While there is certainly no causal relationship between the two, it is not entirely coincidence that a Man was first raised in the desert the year that the Berlin Wall fell. The Cold War-era perception of an irresolvable antagonism between capitalism and communism–market and commons–had begun to appear less tenable. The innovation economy that Silicon Valley has come to represent proposes to link sharing (of information) and capitalist production in a mutual reinforcing relationship. Tech companies benefit when the level of common knowledge in the employment pool increases or when innovations in the commons can be commoditized and brought into the market. (See Fred Turner’s excellent work on how Burning Man ties into Silicon Valley’s innovation economy.)

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Reposted with permission from: The Society Pages

Water Works by Cynthia Barnett

In architecture, community, ecology, infrastructure, North America on July 30, 2013 at 17:52

From: Water Works: Communities imagine ways of making every drop count (Reimagining Infrastructure series) by Cynthia Barnett, Orion Magazine, http://www.orionmagazine.org

On a winter’s day in Seattle, a leaden monotony hangs over the Central Business District, dispiriting to this part of downtown. Contrary to reputation, the urban pallor is not born of rain, which falls almost imperceptibly from silvery clouds that match the nearby waters of Puget Sound. Rather, the gloom rises from the cement hardscape. The busy streets are paved dark gray, the wide sidewalks beside them light gray. The skyscrapers rise in shades of gray. The hulking freeways, ramps, and overpasses: gray. The monorail track and its elephantine pillars: gray.

The gray shellac of a city repels more than the imagination. When rain flows along streets, parking lots, and rooftops rather than percolating into the ground, it soaks up toxic metals, oil and grease, pesticides and herbicides, feces, and every other scourge that can make its way to a gutter. This runoff impairs virtually every urban creek, stream, and river in Washington. It makes Pacific killer whales some of the most PCB-contaminated mammals on the planet. It’s driving two species of salmon extinct, and kills a high percentage of healthy coho within hours of swimming into Seattle’s creeks, before they’ve had a chance to spawn.

Returning some of nature’s hydrology to the cityscape can make an enormous difference —or could—as more individuals, businesses, and neighborhoods remake their bit of the terra firma. Washington State University scientists have found that streets with rain gardens clean up 90 percent or more of the pollutants flowing through on their way to the sound. Green roofs reduce runoff between 50 and 85 percent and can drop a building’s energy costs by nearly a third. Cisterns like the one on Vine Street solve two problems, reducing runoff and capturing water for outdoor irrigation—which in summer can account for half a city’s freshwater demand.

Seattle was among the first major American cities to accept that it had hit the limit. The Emerald City taps a clear mountain river called the Cedar, and a smaller river, the Tolt, to quench the thirst of 1.4 million urbanites and corporate giants from Amazon to Microsoft. The Cedar River begins in the cloud-laced foothills of the Cascade Range, flows forty-five miles south to Seattle’s iconic Lake Washington, and ultimately to Puget Sound. Seattle’s leaders had the foresight to begin buying up the river’s watershed for drinking water in the late 1800s; over a century, they’d preserved more than ninety thousand acres. At the upper reaches of the watershed, snowpack collects in winter, then fills the city’s reservoirs for the dry summer. At the lower end, the Landsburg Dam diverts the river for drinking water.

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Reposted with permission from: Orion Magazine

Non-Indigenous Culture by Derek Rasmussen

In civilisation, community, economy, environment, nature, North America, society on July 18, 2013 at 17:21

From: “Non-Indigenous Culture”: Implications of a Historical Anomaly by Derek Rasmussen, YES! Magazine, http://www.yesmagazine.org

When Canadian government surveyors first ran across Gitskan people in their traditional territory, the Gitskan asked, “What are you doing here?”

“Surveying our land,” answered the surveyors.

Incredulous, the Gitksan responded: “If this is your land, where are your stories?”

We non-indigenous are the weird and exotic ones. It’s shocking to realize that although we study indigenous societies to death—”you’re always putting us under the microscope” says my Inuk friend Tommy Akulukjuk—we don’t have a single university department or textbook looking into this weird new invention: non-indigenous societies.

Thanks to fossil fuels and our ideology of possessive individualism (en masse you might call it “capitalism”), we are the first civilization not enmeshed within networks of communities and relations with the land. The West’s 200 year-old industrial civilization is the first to try to split itself off. This is a “stunning innovation in human affairs, the sociological equivalent of the splitting of the atom,” according to anthropologist Wade Davis. “Ours is a new and original culture that celebrates the individual at the expense of family and community.”

There has never been a non-indigenous civilization on planet Earth before. It’s even a bit of false flattery to call ourselves “settlers”—we don’t actually settle anywhere. The numbers may be slightly better in the United States, but the average Canadian moves once every six years—we have to in order to find work. As Jack Turner writes in The Abstract Wild:

We no longer have a home except in a brute commercial sense: home is where the bills come. To seriously help homeless humans and animals will require a sense of home that is not commercial. The Eskimo, the Aranda, the Sioux—all belonged to a place. Where is our habitat? Where do I belong?…We know that the historical move from community to society pro­ceeded by destroying unique local structures—religion, economy, food patterns, custom, possessions, families, traditions—and replac­ing these with national, or international, structures that created the modern “individual” and integrated him into society. Modern man lost his home; in the process everything else did too.

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Reposted with permission from YES! Magazine

Artifice v. Pastoral by Jay Griffiths

In community, ecology, economy, environment on June 17, 2013 at 19:34

From: Artifice v. Pastoral by Jay Griffiths, Orion Magazine, http://www.orionmagazine.org

I asked one Inuit woman how she felt about the land. “I remember it was beautiful,” she said wistfully. The land was still there, a few yards from her door, thousands of miles of land as wide and beautiful as it ever had been but she was weirdly—artificially—alienated from it. Not so the elders, traveling by boat, Ski-doo, or dog-teams. They knew how to hunt, they knew the language of the land, those dozens of distinct words for snow and ice, on which your life may depend. They cherished the freedom of the land, that non-negotiable authenticity.

The elders are less confident of their knowledge now, because of climate change; I was told of an elder who went through the ice and drowned in a place where it never would have happened before. We’re north of everywhere, they say, and the first to feel these changes. “I’m the last man standing, so be careful with me,” says one, in elliptical vulnerability.

Climate collapse has weird echoes of the financial collapse of recent months, and at the core of both is what I’d call the Politics of Artifice. Perverse and cruel, it is an almost unexamined ideology, one which commits itself to the primacy of the fake and declares war on all that is natural.

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Reposted with permission from: Orion Magazine

Becoming invisible by Adam Yosef

In community, culture, ethics, human rights, politics on March 5, 2013 at 22:55

From: Becoming invisible by Adam Yosef, Part 1 and 2, the Pavement magazine, http://www.thepavement.org.uk

There are thousands of people out there in the world who are doing this all the time. The majority don’t even realise they are ignoring another person, the reason for which is simple: they no longer recognise the ones they’re ignoring as ‘people’.

When I was younger, the sight of homeless people very much intrigued me. Encountering individuals sleeping rough in shop doorways after closing time, on park benches covered in newspaper or on pavements reaching out to passers-by for some “spare change” would no doubt stir curiosity in any untapped innocent mind.

Indeed, the dehumanisation of the homeless is what makes it harder for many of them to find their way towards meeting their personal needs. As a society we need to accept that those who live on the streets are there for a number of reasons and their circumstances, appearance or dwelling do not determine their role in society or their standing in the social spectrum. Whether it’s health or financial situations that have led someone onto the streets; whether it’s escape from a harsher environment or whether they’re there for a standing of political principle, public opinion has to be rewired to realise and reassess prejudices against those who have become invisible to the masses. The idea that individuals sleeping on streets are different to the individuals that sleep in beds, simply for that reason, has to be eliminated.

Part 1 at http://www.thepavement.org.uk/story.php?story=1438

Part 2 at http://www.thepavement.org.uk/story.php?story=1467

Reposted with permission from: the Pavement magazine

Nushu by Fabio Conte

In Asia, community, gender, languages on February 10, 2013 at 17:53

From: Nushu, secret script of Chinese women by Fabio Conte, http://www.cafebabel.co.uk

Discovered in the 1950s, the ancient language was banned by the communist party so that it didn’t ignite discussions on women’s liberation. Thanks to tourism today, this ‘women’s script’ is experiencing something of a revival – unfortunately, fears are that there are few women left who are able to speak and write it.

In standard Chinese it is identified using only one character, yet Nushu itself represents concepts as well as sounds. Literally, ‘nu shu’ means ‘women’s script’. It is made up of over 20, 000 characters which are rhomboid, not square shaped, as they are in standard Chinese. It is read from right to left and mainly written in verses, probably so as to give a certain rhythm to the text. Mao’s prohibition of women’s script during the cultural revolution of China (1966-1976) meant the loss of all texts written in it. Consequently many of the women who knew how to speak and write it soon forgot it. Many texts written in Nushu were burned, and as such now it is difficult to establish the language’s origins.

In the village of Shanjianxu, in the southern region of Hunan (which is famous, amongst other things, for being home to the fictional mountains in 2009’s Avatar) the flower mountain temple is a shrine to two sisters who died over a thousand years ago. For many centuries, the inhabitants of the region have worshiped the spirits of these sisters at the temple. They offer gifts of rice paper rolls in which they placed their secrets, their wishes and sometimes their prayers, which is necessary to find the courage to commit suicide. In the temple, among the smell of incense, there is the sound of a countrywoman’s song which roughly translates as, ‘Spirit sisters, please listen to my prayer, this poor girl writes to you in women’s script, Spirit sisters, take pity on me. I wish to follow wherever you are, if you would only accept me there, then I would dedicate myself to you. I’m willowing to follow you right to the Yellow Springs, to the Underworld. Now, I care nothing for things of this world, Spirit sisters, take pity on me, I beg you, change me into a man, I don’t want to bear the name of woman’.

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Reposted with permission from: Cafebabel

After Sandy: Presidential rhetoric and visions of solidarity

In community, government, history, nature, North America, politics, sociology on January 9, 2013 at 23:42

From: After Sandy: Presidential rhetoric and visions of solidarity, The Immanent Frame, http://blogs.ssrc.org/tif/

Richard AmesburyAssociate Professor of Ethics, Claremont School of Theology; Associate Professor of Religion, Claremont Graduate University

Sandy, in all her indiscriminate, non-partisan fury, ripped the facade off two large problems that had received little to no attention in the Presidential debates—poverty and climate change. In the storm’s grim aftermath, President Obama spoke movingly of America’s unity in the face of adversity. “We leave nobody behind,” he said the next day. “We make sure that we respond as a nation and remind ourselves that whenever an American is in need, all of us stand together to make sure that we’re providing the help that’s necessary.” But the reality is that the suffering occasioned by Sandy, though no doubt experienced at all levels, has been unequally distributed. As David Rohde observed in Manhattan the night of the storm, “Those with a car could flee. Those with wealth could move into a hotel. Those with steady jobs could decline to come into work. But the city’s cooks, doormen, maintenance men, taxi drivers and maids left their loved ones at home.” Gestures of bi-partisanship and horizontal solidarity, though perhaps refreshing, should not be allowed to occlude the plight of those left behind in poverty.

Sandy has also made it seem like bad taste to scoff at climate change, as Governor Romney did in his convention speech. Though it may be too early to tell precisely what role climate change played in this particular case, increasingly severe hurricane activity is part of what the scientific models suggest we should expect on our warming planet. Obama’s comment on October 30th is telling: “Sadly, we are getting more experience with these kinds of big impact storms along the East Coast.” Apart from such oblique remarks, and despite pressure from environmental groups, Obama has been mostly silent about the climate of late, but perhaps the images of flooding and devastation will help to change the political climate around climate change, which, like so much else, will most acutely affect the poor.

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Reposted with permission from: The Immanent Frame

Leaving Home by Matthew Gilbert

In community, culture, government, immigration, North America, politics on January 8, 2013 at 00:48

From: Leaving Home: The Problem of Outmigration Discussed in Arctic Village, Alaska by Matthew Gilbert, Cultural Survival, http://www.culturalsurvival.org

Trimble recalls how many young Native people who moved to Fairbanks from Arctic Village died from alcoholism. “Addiction and gambling, they get addicted and don’t want to return home, and end up homeless. I was down at the graveyard this past Memorial Day and saw all the young men and women who died from alcohol. If they were living in Arctic Village, they would still be alive.”

Trimble says, Natives were the keepers of the land and all its food and vegetation. Nobody moved away from their lands, not even when it got really cold. “People should think back and honor our Elders who survived for thousands of years. Elders told me, ‘Don’t leave the children behind,’ so my wife and I stayed here. Our ancestors are buried here too, we can’t just leave them.”

Sarah James is a world-famous Gwich’in leader and lives in Arctic Village. At the 2011 Arctic Village High School graduation ceremony, she told the students. “Whether you’re living in the village or the city, you have to respect and live in both worlds.” She says. “I’m not encouraging them to move to Fairbanks, but to stay in the village and be proud of their culture and keep the environment clean. To make your life comfortable you have to work for it. Money is something you have to learn how to use, to budget. If not, you can’t make it in either world.”

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Reposted with permission from: Cultural Survival

Austin At Large by John Davidson

In architecture, community, economics, ethnicity, government, North America, performing arts, politics, space on December 21, 2012 at 17:55

From: Austin At Large by John Davidson, n + 1, http://nplusonemag.com

Austin is the fastest-growing city in the United States. More than 150,000 people moved there in the last decade and the city now has almost 800,000 residents. The greater metro area added almost half a million people in the past ten years and now has a population of about 1.7 million. This rapid growth has made Austin one of the few cities in the country where the housing market is strong and stable. The total dollar amount of single-family homes sold in Austin in October was more than $543 million, and with the population expected to keep growing and spreading into other parts of the city, the future looks good for realtors and developers in Austin.

For everyone else, the future looks expensive. Central Texas is struggling with an overloaded infrastructure and crippling congestion, which will keep getting worse unless Austin and Travis County can figure out how to build light rail, buy more buses and establish more routes, carve out more bike and pedestrian paths, and build larger highways—all of which comes with a price tag in the tens of billions. That money would have to come from ever-increasing property taxes and fees paid by current residents, and of course those living in growing neighborhoods will be hit hardest.

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Reposted with permission from: n + 1

Climate Change, Forest Privatization, and Apocalyptic Prophesies in the Mayan Zone of Quintana Roo, Mexico by José E. Martínez-Reyes

In anthropology, biology, community, culture, ecology, economics, human rights, politics, sociology, South America on December 16, 2012 at 16:54

From: Climate Change, Forest Privatization, and Apocalyptic Prophesies in the Mayan Zone of Quintana Roo by José E. Martínez-Reyes

The Maya of central Quintana Roo and their environment have undergone enormous transformations in recent years. Pressures not only from tourism development, but also from land tenure changes and land speculation are beginning to create increased tensions within Mayan communities between people that want to continue the current system of communal land tenure (“ejido”) and those that feel pressure to sell their ejido rights to potentially offer land for development or for a recent biodiversity conservation scheme that is happening in the communities around the Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserve.

On top of the conservation restrictions to comply with REDD+, the Maya are facing increased periods of drought associated with climate change. These changes are putting enormous pressure on their resources, the forest, forest wildlife, their traditional agriculture, and make them more dependent on government subsidies. It also has the effect of promoting migration to try and find one of the relatively few jobs that the tourism industry provides. Facing this array of difficulties, local leaders, including the Mayan dignitaries associated with the Church of the Talking Cross, continue to question what prospects look like for their future generations.  As a people that have endured profound struggles, including invasion and war, they continue to respond with an apocalyptic sentiment (that has nothing to do with the 2012 nonsense that the media perpetuates).

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Reposted with permission from: Cultural Survival

Wolfbane by George Monbiot

In animals, biology, community, ecology, Europe, government, nature, politics on November 25, 2012 at 20:45

From: Wolfbane by George Monbiot, http://www.monbiot.com

One of the biggest political shocks of the past decade has been the transformation of Canada. Under the influence of the tar barons of Alberta, it has mutated from a country dominated by liberal, pacific, outward-looking values to a thuggish petro-state, ripping up both international treaties and the fabric of its own nation.

Tomorrow (Wednesday) there will be a meeting between the Norwegian and Swedish governments, at which Norway intends to lay claim to some of the wolves which live on the border between the two nations. This may sound like a good thing. The government’s purpose is anything but.

If it can classify these wolves as Norwegian, even though most of them breed in Sweden, it can go ahead with the extermination of wolves elsewhere in the country. It can claim that, due to the newly-nationalised border population, it is still meeting its international obligations to maintain the species.

Wolves are very popular in Norway: surveys suggest that around 80% of the public – in both urban and rural areas – wants to keep them at current or higher numbers. But as so often with rural issues – in Norway and in many other parts of the world – the dominant voices are those who belong to a small but powerful minority.

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Reposted with permission from: George Monbiot

Two Views of the Storm in Brooklyn by Anya Ulinich and Anya Yurchyshyn

In community, nature, North America, society on November 19, 2012 at 22:25

From: Two Views of the Storm in Brooklyn by Anya Ulinich and Anya Yurchyshyn, n + 1, http://nplusonemag.com

I knew the water came because I saw it from my new apartment, where the lights never went out, not once. I spent the beginning of the storm trying to work while my roommates watched movies. The wind was thumping our rickety windows enough for me to move away from them, but I felt safe. “I love a good storm!” I thought, and I do. I also thought I was going to get a lot of work done. I didn’t.

Why didn’t I leave? I thought I’d be safe—I figured that if the water came up to the fourth floor we’d all be so fucked that it wouldn’t matter where I was. Also, I love Red Hook, and I wanted to be there if something happened to it. People always talk about its incredible community, how it’s a village, and all that’s true. But it’s not like I know everyone there, go out all the time, or am on a first name basis with the old guard, or even the new one. I’m no shut in, but that level of exposure makes me shy. But I’ve always recognized what it is and knew I was living in the best neighborhood in New York City and was surrounded by the best neighbors. Red Hook was the only place I wanted to live, even though, or precisely because, it’s kind of a pain-in-the-ass to live there.

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Reposted with permission from: n + 1

It is a duty that we should save seeds for the future by Vandana Shiva

In Asia, biology, community, culture, ecology, ethics, nature, research, science on November 9, 2012 at 00:16

From: It is a duty that we should save seeds for the future by Vandana Shiva, America Latina en Movimiento, http://alainet.org

(…) Biodiversity is not empty, it is not pure nature, none of the varieties that have been evolved over centuries by peasant societies, particularly the women, are landrace. I think it’s just a wrong term to use because there’s intelligence in every bit of their breeding.
And as we think of how do we achieve systems of development, particularly rural development, there can be objectives of providing food of high quality, good nutrition, how do we assure that rural communities are not excluded, that women are not excluded, I think the first step along with development [is] food security as well as social inclusion, it is to start removing the boundaries and walls that have lead to exclusion. In my view the most important wall is a very invisible wall that gets higher and higher and higher.
This is a wall I have called the creation boundary. This is a wall that is destroying our biodiversity, that is pushing our rural communities to marginalization and poverty, and it is a wall that has discounted the knowledge of peasant societies, especially the women.
And this wall started to get put in place when knowledge was suddenly demarcated between scientific knowledge and other [types of] knowledge that aren’t knowledge.

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Reposted with permission from: America Latina en Movimiento

Lonesome No More! Kurt Vonnegut’s Freethinking Heritage by Heather Augustyn

In community, literature, nature, North America, religion, science, writers on October 11, 2012 at 05:57

From: Lonesome No More! Kurt Vonnegut’s Freethinking Heritage by Heather Augustyn, The Humanist, http://thehumanist.org

… It was after the interview was published by In These Times (Vonnegut was honorary editor of the Chicago-based magazine), that I became more interested in what Vonnegut had to say to me about his family heritage of freethought, a topic upon which not only he wrote, but his great grandfather Clemens Vonnegut too, in published essays and in his own eulogy. Freethought was rich in German culture, as well as the cultures of other European immigrants to the United States. In fact, Clemens Vonnegut founded the Freethinkers Society of Indianapolis in 1870 and served as president of the organization for many years. He was also the founder of a freethinker Sunday school and fought against religion in schools as a member of the Indianapolis Public School Board. In those days many freethinkers were involved in educational issues. Today, freethinkers may choose to be called secular humanists, agnostics, or atheists but to Kurt Vonnegut Jr. they were skeptics and they were his kin. Naturally, skepticism and kinship are two themes that run throughout his fiction.

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Reposted with permission from: The Humanist

What keeps societies together by Richard Sennett and Richard David Precht

In anthropology, civilisation, community, philosophy, society on October 7, 2012 at 03:53

From: What keeps societies together by Richard Sennett and Richard David Precht, CafeBabel, cafebabel.com

Last night the anthropologist Richard Sennett talked to philosopher Richard David Precht on the main stage in the Haus der Berliner Festspiele about his new book Together: The Rituals, Pleasures and Politics of Cooperation. The event took place as a part of the International Literature Festival and brought together many people curious to experience the scholars in person and to find out more about the nature of cooperation as a social process and about the exclusively human problems of living together on a daily basis.

The conversation was held in two languages and translated simultaneously. It clearly pointed out to the differences of academic discourses within these two cultural and linguistic environments. Sennett spoke slowly and always made his points very clear using examples from other disciplines and arts. Precht spoke fast, made use of monster compounds and long sentences typical for the German language and drew many references to the history of mankind and philosophical theories. Both of them showed their sense of humor and made it a highly interesting and very inspiring hour and a half.

“If I was to write the book a year later, I would have written about the European crisis” started Richard Sennett when introducing his newly published work. So it would have been about the crisis because it perfectly illustrates the theory that our societies are characterized with lack of social understanding of the Other and of what cooperation is about. One of his main points is that cooperation is founded in natural behavior and that it is not ethical – i.e. we need to cooperate in order to survive. We would not be able to learn anything if we did not cooperate with our teachers. Our skills of cooperation tend however to be very weak if we have to use them towards people who are different than ourselves. It is easy to be nice to people who are like us, claims Sennett but what is a real challenge is to develop a skill to cooperate in order to cross cultural borders. According to him, this very skill is a bridge, a mediator between the natural and the cultural. Cooperation does not equal ethical behavior, nor is it based on altruism (which does not involve an exchange and which is not dialogic) and insofar it is against the principles of protestant ethics.

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Reposted with permission from: CafeBabel

Armenia: Minority Group Opposes New Marriage Rules by Gayane Mkrtchyan – Caucasus

In anthropology, Asia, community, culture, ethnicity, gender, government on October 4, 2012 at 03:56

From: Armenia: Minority Group Opposes New Marriage Rules by Gayane Mkrtchyan – Caucasus, Institute for War & Peace Reporting, http://iwpr.net

A proposed change to the law in Armenia setting 18 as the minimum age at which women and men can marry has run into opposition from the Yezidi minority.

Until now, women have been able to get married at 17, a year earlier than men. The officials behind the proposed change say they want to ensure gender equality, and also to keep young women in full-time education, in light of a change to the rules which requires everyone to complete 12 years of schooling instead of ten.

“At 17, girls are still studying, so it’s no longer appropriate for them to get married,” Justice Minister Hrayr Tovmasyan said. “There’s also been a ruling by the health minister that early pregnancy can cause health problems later on.”

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Reposted with permission from: IWPR

Anaïs Nin on Paris vs. New York, 1939 by Maria Popova

In art, books, community, culture, Europe, immigration, North America, psychology, society, writers on October 1, 2012 at 02:00

From: Anaïs Nin on Paris vs. New York, 1939 by Maria Popova, Brain Pickings, http://www.brainpickings.org

From The Diary of Anaïs Nin, Vol. 3: 1939-1944 (public library) comes this poignant, articulate description of what Nin experienced as the difference between Parisians and New Yorkers — something recently explored in much lighter, more tongue-in-cheek terms — penned in the winter of 1939:

In Paris, when entering a room, everyone pays attention, seeks to make you feel welcome, to enter into conversation, is curious, responsive. Here it seems everyone is pretending not to see, hear, or look too intently. The faces reveal no interest, no responsiveness.

Overtones are missing. Relationships seem impersonal and everyone conceals his secret life, whereas in Paris it was the exciting substance of our talks, intimate revelations and sharing of experience.

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Reposted with permission from: Maria Popova

Here There Be Monsters by Brendan Fitzgerald

In academia, community, education, internet, media, research, universities on September 30, 2012 at 04:14

From: Here There Be Monsters by Brendan Fitzgerald, The Morning News, http://www.themorningnews.org

The first warning came in 2008. Kelly, a history professor at George Mason, had launched a new course called “Lying About the Past.” For two months, his students studied “the history of historical hoaxes”—photographs of the Loch Ness monster, forged Hitler diaries, Orson Welles’s War of the Worlds broadcast. Then, they created their own hoax—a deception Kelly previewed on the first day of the semester on his blog.

“We will work together as a group to create an online historical hoax that we will then turn loose on the internet to see if we can actually fool anyone,” wrote Kelly. He signed off: “You have been warned.”

Kelly’s students decided on a project they called “The Last American Pirate.” They invented a man named Edward Owens. He was a Virginian. He lost his money and job after the Panic of 1873. Desperate, he turned to robbing boats on the Chesapeake Bay to regain his lost wealth. And with that, once Owens’s background was complete, the students lowered him delicately into history, like optimistically introducing a Chinese mystery snail into an Appalachian lake.

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Reposted with permission from: The Morning News

Hospitality at a Fractured Table by David J. Walbert

In community, culture, politics, society on September 30, 2012 at 04:02

From: Hospitality at a Fractured Table by David J. Walbert, Front Porch Republic, http://www.frontporchrepublic.com

“It sure is hard to have people over to dinner these days,” the food writer lamented, at a talk I attended the other week. She told a sorry tale of a dinner party involving two vegetarians, their father who expected to be served meat because he couldn’t get any at home (“poor man”), and a guest who was lactose intolerant. Everyone chuckled. It’s becoming the stylish refrain of the decade, that people’s food choices and fad diets and principles and medical ailments have so splintered us that we can’t break bread together any more; the pot luck is devolving into a brown bag lunch.

It’s a sad state of affairs for anyone who enjoys cooking, who enjoys cooking for friends, who would rather show love and appreciation through food than get all mushy about it, who is frankly looking for an excuse to spend half the day on a dish, that sort of effort being embarrassing unless offered up to others.

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Reposted with permission from: Front Porch Republic

On Never Being Alone Again by Zygmunt Bauman

In civilisation, community, Europe, government, North America, privacy, society, sociology, technology, war on September 28, 2012 at 04:52

From: On Never Being Alone Again by Zygmunt Bauman, Social Europe Journal, http://www.social-europe.eu

Two apparently unconnected items of news appeared on the same day, 19 June – though one can be forgiven overlooking their appearance… As any news, they arrived floating in an “information tsunami” – just two tiny drops in a flood of news meant/hoped to do the job of enlightening and clarifying while serving that of obscuring and befuddling.

One item, authored by Elisabeth Bumiller and Thom Shanker, informed of the spectacular rise in the number of drones reduced to the size of a dragonfly, or of a hummingbird comfortably perching on windowsills; both designed, in the juicy expression of Greg Parker, an aerospace engineer, “to hide in plain sight”. The second, penned down by Brian Shelter, proclaimed the internet to be “the place where anonymity dies”. The two messages spoke in unison, they both augured/portended the end of invisibility and autonomy, the two defining attributes of privacy – even if each of the two items was composed independently of the other and without awareness of the other’s existence.

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Reposted according to copyright notice from The Social Europe website

Detropia with Amy Goodman and Rachel Grady

In community, documentary, economics, film, interview, media, North America, politics, society on September 19, 2012 at 04:34

From: Detropia: New Doc Takes Intimate Look at Detroit’s Struggle with Manufacturing Collapse, Urban Decay with Amy Goodman and Rachel Grady, Democracy Now!, http://www.democracynow.org

Once known as the Motor City, where the middle class was born, Detroit’s auto industry and manufacturing sector have collapsed. Today the city is on the verge of bankruptcy, facing a thinning population and massive cuts to basic services. The new film “Detropia” takes an intimate look at at some of the city’s former members of the middle class as they struggle to make ends meet and refuse to abandon hope. We’re joined by the film’s co-director, Rachel Grady, a private investigator turned filmmaker who, along with her co-director Heidi Ewing, has made several films, including the Academy Award-nominated “Jesus Camp.”

AMY GOODMAN: We’re broadcasting from Grand Valley State University in Grand Rapids, Michigan, at the PBS station WGVU. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn now to a new documentary about one of Michigan’s hardest-hit cities, Detroit. Once known as the Motor City, where the middle class was born, Detroit’s auto industry and manufacturing sector have collapsed. Today the city is on the verge of bankruptcy, facing a thinning population and massive cuts to basic services.

Well, the new film Detropia takes an intimate look at some of the city’s former members of the middle class as they struggle to make ends meet and refuse to abandon hope. I want to turn for a moment to a clip of Detropia.

REPORTER: This is the downsizing of Detroit. You’re watching it live. These are houses that are never coming back. It’s going back to the prairie, and these houses are just disappearing from the landscape.

GEORGE McGREGOR: I want to show you something. All this is empty. They built a new plant in Mexico and took all the work to Mexico.

NICOLE: For factory support, which is the guys that are making $14.35, their new proposal is $11 an hour, which means they would lose $3.35 an hour on their wage.

AUTO WORKER: Why? What do you think you’re going to feel every day going into work?

REPORTER: One of the big hot-button issues in Detroit is the layout of the city, and right now there’s questions about what parts of the city may be shrunk.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: I don’t know if y’all understand, but they’re shutting down schools. They’re shutting down futures, basically.

DETROIT RESIDENT: We’re not going to accept any more downsizing. We want to hear about upsizing, big-sizing, super-sizing Detroit.

MAYOR DAVID BING: It’s going to be difficult. The city is broke. I don’t know how many times I have to say that.

STEVE COY: I mean, we looked at Baltimore. We were looking into New York City. And Detroit came up. We can experiment here.

TOMMY STEPHENS: What happened in Detroit is now spreading throughout. There’s no buffer between the rich and the poor. Only thing left is revolution.

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Reposted according to copyright notice from: Democracy Now! website

 

The ideal of community: belief without proof (Arendt, 1929) by Philippe Theophanidis

In community, philosophy, sociology on August 18, 2012 at 05:37

 

From: The ideal of community: belief without proof (Arendt, 1929) by Philippe Theophanidis, aphelis, http://aphelis.net

Though this equality is only implicit in the earthly city it permits us to understand interdependence, which essentially defines social life in the worldly community. This interdependence shows in the mutual give and take in which people live together.12 The attitude of individuals toward each other is characterized here by belief (crederer), as distinguished from all real or potential knowledge.13 We comprehend all history, that is, all human and temporal acts by believing―which means by trusting, but never by understanding (intelligere). This belief in the other is the belief that he will prove himself in our common future. Every earthly city depends upon this proof. Yet this belief that arises from our mutual interdependence precedes any possible proof.14 The continued existence of humankind does not rest on the proof. Rather, it rests on necessary belief, without which social life become impossible.15

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Reposted with permission from: Philippe Theophanidis

Setback for Armenia’s Lake Sevan by Arpi Harutyunyan

In Asia, community, ecology, news on August 16, 2012 at 05:33

 

From: Setback for Armenia’s Lake Sevan by Arpi Harutyunyan, IWPR, http://iwpr.net

Lake Sevan fell by a metre a year from 1949, when schemes to channel off water started operating, and the pace increased after Armenia became independent in 1991. After 2002, however, the trend was reversed thanks to a World Bank-backed programme, and water levels have risen by more than four metres since then. The plan is to achieve an annual rise of 20 centimetres until the ideal level is reached within 30 years.

However, official estimates suggest the rising waters will flood roads running alongside the lake, and dozens of lakeside homes – many of them owned by senior members of Armenia’s political and business elite.

That, say some environmentalists, is the real reason for draining off water – the drought is just a pretext to prevent rising waters inundating top officials’ holiday homes.

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Reposted with permission from: IWPR

The death of the Russian village by Matilda Moreton

In community, economics, Europe, government, history, society on August 8, 2012 at 20:19

 

From: The death of the Russian village by Matilda Moreton, openDemocracy, http://www.opendemocracy.net

In so many places in the Russian North, village life has all but disappeared. It seems that farming is no longer a sustainable way of life and the young have left to find a living elsewhere. The land, once busy with cows and tractors, is now uncultivated, overgrown, reclaimed by bog and forest. Former ‘millionaires’ (prize-winning) collective farms stand empty, their vast granaries and cow sheds rotting away in the same state of neglect as the villages themselves – now ghostly, almost totally empty – beautiful houses, schools and exquisite churches all collapsed or collapsing.

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In Praise of Vacant Lots by Jay Walljasper

In community, ecology, economics, nature, society on July 11, 2012 at 00:04

 

From: In Praise of Vacant Lots by Jay Walljasper, YES! Magazine, http://www.yesmagazine.org/

Modern society’s obsession with efficiency, productivity and purposefulness sometimes blind us to the epic possibilities of empty spaces that aren’t serving any profitable economic function. The word “vacant” itself implies that these places are devoid of value.

But think back to all the imaginative uses you could discover for vacant land as a kid. In my neighborhood we squeezed a baseball diamond, 6-hole golf course, horseshoe pit and vegetable garden (right behind the third base line) into the lot behind my house.

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