November 9th, 2010

[BLOG] Some Tuesday links

  • 80 Beats lets us know that research examining HIV-positive people able to resist progression to AIDS suggests that these people share a one of a specific cluster of mutations letting their immune system order infected cells to self-destruct.

  • BAGNewsNotes has photographs from an Atlanta-area church devoted to the prosperity gospel, using the rhetoric of warriors and wealth to attract people.

  • When did things go wrong with the Toronto neighbourhood--infamous neighbourhood--of Regent Park? The 1960s, a blogTO post suggests, after a good start.

  • The Global Sociology Blog reports on what may be a phenomenon of managers cheating their companies in order to give poor workers some outs.

  • At Halfway Down the Danube, Douglas Muir tells us that, as it turns out, Zambia was supposed to be a white settler colony on the mode of then Southern Rhodesia. It didn't work out, but partly because of the failure of this project Zambian whites are far more secure than Zimbabwean whites ever were.

  • The Invisible College's Lennart Breuker writes about how the Rwandan government is using that country's genocide to legally harass even people demonstrably opposed to the genocide.

  • Joe. My. God links to the public discussion in South Korea on allowing gays into that country's military.

  • Landscape and Urbanism lets us know about the complexity of the debates surrounding urban agriculture.

  • The Search's Douglas Todd writes about the mainstreaming of the Hindu festival of Diwali.

  • Spacing Toronto examines the history and present and future of Parkdale's Jameson Avenue.

  • Understanding Society's Daniel Little examines how plans for Shanghai's economic development allow for extremely high densities.

[LINK] "Lively/Lived Space: Salzburg and L’vivly Space"

Space and Culture had a great post contrasting the use of urban space in two cities at the opposite ends of the Hapsburg empire, Salzburg and L'viv.

Eastern Europe ’s cities are an education in different regimes of public space. Within the spatialisation Lefebvre describes as modernist, rationalized ‘Abstract Space’ public areas of cities are reduced to their function, utility and managed in terms of maximizing value within an overarching vision of land as a commodity to be bought and sold. Although utility is included in calculating its exchange value, this monetary abstraction – the price of land — ultimately over-rides even the use value of land and a necessary platform for economic activity. This tends to reduce city spaces to infrastructure which is understood in terms of needs such as transportation, costs of land and maintenance. Urban public space is a lost money-making opportunity if only because it is withdrawn from the real estate market. Elements such as sidewalks are thus reduced to the minimum required by social uses and safety standards.

In the late 20th century, under what Lefebvre understood as a statist mode of production and accumulation, urban space is not just infrastructure but managed more consciously as a means of social control and as a way of facilitating commerce and trade. This implies policing the minutiae of uses of these areas, moving on loiterers and banning unproductive uses of space. Legitimated, tax-paying businesses are favoured by banning or limiting street traders and peddlers. Traveling between Ukraine and Austria highlighted this for me on a recent trip.


Like many Western cities, the touristic ancient squares of Salzburg provide a good example of such management – a widespread approach, not something unique to Salzburg. Impeccably swept by street-cleaning equipment, stalls vending (usually gourmet) food simulate historical uses of the Platz and Markt and long-established cafes have the right to put out tables for patrons within carefully bounded,, but unmarked, areas. The invisibility of these boundaries of areas of entitlement undergird the simulacrum. The squares are thus vastly empty apart from specifically placed activities such as taxis queued for customers, tourists and tour groups headed one way or another, clustered around a fountain or jockeying for the ‘Kodak spot’ from which to take cliched snapshots as personal souvenirs of Salzburg. Missing in this sketch, and perhaps detectable only via tourists’ weary feet, is the genera absence of public seating and benches in these squares. The only available seating is in cafes for paying customers. Needless to say, itinerant peddlers and beggars have been systematically moved on by police.


What really distinguishes L’viv from the cities of Western Europe is its extensive greenery, parks and promenades. Like Salzburg there are distinct seasons with less clement weather yet, lined with benches, L’viv’s public spaces support an active and inclusive public life which seems to include all ages, abilities, genders and social groups. Families with children occupy benches or stroll by elderly men playing chess in impromptu games on the benches. Strollers practice a now rare, genuine flaneurie – strolling in the heart of the city ‘to see and perhaps be seen’ — of the sort hosted by promenades such as Barcelona’s Ramblas. This is a way of participating in the life of the city and bringing these places alive. Nor is it simply a scene of pedestrian mobility. Rather than seeking what Perniola calls the ‘tranject’ — a simulated cinematic tracking shot as the visual synthesis of what a city is, people stroll and meander (perhaps more energetically than tourists), children trace complex racing zigzags, toy electric cars are available for rent for a few minutes, photographers pose tourists with life-sized plush animal, hawkers display Ukrainian memorabilia on some benches. Monuments to local personages and nationalist heros such as Taras Shevchenko overshadow the space. They underscore the importance of past events such as the historical tragedy of the Ukrainian famine and the pre-capitalist spatialisation of peasant serfdom which lasted into the twentieth century in Ukraine.

[BRIEF NOTE] On recognizing Indonesia's rise

I've blogged a fair bit about the rising power of Indonesia, at A Bit More Detail here when discussion of Indonesia's status on a BRIC stated that its economy was as yet too small to qualify as a BRIC and here when another suggested tht Russia's flagging growth should replace the acronyn BRIC with BICI, and at Demography Matters when I observed that with increased wealth Indonesia's large opulation was becoming increasingly mobile within and without the country. Indonesia's doing well. Obama's ongoing visit suggests that the United States is recognizing this rise, perhaps in the same way it's observing Brazil's development as a world power.

Obama, who lived in Indonesia for four years as a child, started his visit by meeting with President Susilo BambangYudhoyono and an official dinner Tuesday night.

"It's wonderful to be able to come back as president and I hope to contribute to further understanding between the United States and Indonesia," Obama said in a televised news conference.

[. . .]

On Wednesday, Obama was to visit the Istiqlal Mosque, the largest mosque in Indonesia. He is also to deliver a speech on U.S.-Indonesia relations and, at the University of Indonesia, discuss American outreach to Muslim communities around the world.

According to a 2009 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center, Indonesia is one of the few predominantly Muslim countries in the world -- Muslims are about 86 percent of the population -- where the image of the United States is largely positive.

The study found that 63 percent of Indonesians have a favorable opinion of the United States compared, for example, to 27 percent of Egyptians and 25 percent of Jordanians. Obama's approval ratings are even higher, with 71 percent of Indonesians expressing confidence that he will positively contribute to world affairs.

[. . .]

"This is a country with whom historically relations have been somewhat tender, sometimes adversarial. But in the last decade, as Indonesia has become -- has emerged as a democracy and under President Yudhoyono, they are playing a larger and more constructive role in regional and world affairs," said Jeff Bader, senior director for Asian affairs at the National Security Council.

Indonesia, which became a democracy in 1999 after decades of authoritarian rule, is a key player in Southeast Asia, although it still faces problems such as poverty, corruption, human rights violations. In 2011, Indonesia will take on the leadership of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a political and economic organization of Southeast Asian countries.

Of course, Truther and teabaggers will use this visit to claim Obama's a secret Muslim, etc. Let's ignore them.

[BLOG-LIKE POSTING] On the rhizomic nature of social networking

Razib at GNXP has been making some interesting notes about social networking software and its influences on, well, human social networking. In one post last month, he related his theories about Dunbar's number.

Dunbar’s number is a theoretical cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. These are relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person. Proponents assert that numbers larger than this generally require more restrictive rules, laws, and enforced norms to maintain a stable, cohesive group. No precise value has been proposed for Dunbar’s number. It lies between 100 and 230, but a commonly used value is 150.

Razib went on to suggest that Dunbar's number isn't universally relevant, not when taking individual variation into account and not when taking the possible structures and dynamics of new-era social grouping into account.

1) The number fixates upon a modal/median number of relationships. There is a “long tail” of individuals who have many more meaningful relationships, and this is important to overall network structure.

2) Technology can potentially double Dunbar’s number. In other words, instead of having ~150 meaningful reciprocal relationships you can now have ~300. Presumably because social technology extends our capabilities and introduces efficiencies by removing some of the “dead weight” overhang.

3) Dunbar’s number applies to coherent and self-contained groups. A pre-modern tribe or a Hutterite colony. It is not appropriate for the more multivalent and fluid relationships common in the contemporary word. For example, the same individual may be members of dozens of urban “tribes” with 10-30 members (though the coherency of the tribe may be highly subjective).

I can buy this. In a more recent post, he suggests--not contradicting himself, I think--that Facebook really isn't that novel, that it's an extension not a radical modification of human socializing patterns, perhaps on the lines above.

You know what I think? I think of Deleuze and Guattari's rhizome.

Let us summarize the principal characteristics of a rhizome: unlike trees or their roots, the rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to traits of the same nature; it brings into play very different regimes of signs, and even nonsign states. The rhizome is reducible to neither the One or the multiple. It is not the One that becomes Two or even directly three, four, five etc. It is not a multiple derived from the one, or to which one is added (n+1). It is comprised not of units but of dimensions, or rather directions in motion. It has neither beginning nor end, but always a middle (milieu) from which it grows and which it overspills. It constitutes linear multiplicities with n dimensions having neither subject nor object, which can be laid out on a plane of coinsistency, and from which the one is always subtracted.

What did these gentlemen mean? Simply put, that the rhizome of philosophy represents social networks which are radically decentered, which have multiple portals and (multiple types of portals) of entry and exit scattered widely, doing what the authors describe as ceaselessly established connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles." The rhizome quite capable of establishing any number of unexpected links between people based on any number of interests; the rhizome generates global civil society and provides much of the social and cultural capital necessary for successful globalization (multiple overlapping networks, not so much as self-contained separate ones; the rhizome is enabled still further by multiple social networking platforms, most particularly Facebook.

[BRIEF NOTE] On the food (and other) totalitarianism of post-war Sri Lanka

Learning of the news that Sri Lanka's government is trying to ban wheat and wheat-based foodstuffs, via brunorepublic's link didn't surprise me. This isn't just a factor of my being informed.

Some 2,000 bakers across Sri Lanka have been forced to close their businesses, the industry says.

The closures come as the government campaigns against the consumption of products based on wheat flour.

Eighteen months after defeating Tamil Tiger militants, the government seems to be intensifying its struggle against an unlikely enemy.

In recent days it has been banning wheat products from various public institutions.

Nationalistic elements of the governing coalition even speak of "wheat terrorism".

Wheat products enjoy great popularity in Sri Lanka - whether it is the rotis, widely eaten with curry, or breads, cakes and savoury pastries which are common here.

Now, though, wheat products have been removed from government hospitals, and fast foods - many made of wheat - have been banned from schools.

The government has also slashed a subsidy it used to apply to the wheat price.

It says this is because wheat is a foreign import, alien to an essentially rice-eating society and costly for its economy.

[. . .]

The National Freedom Front, one of the government parties, is leading the anti-wheat campaign.

The strongly nationalist faction says wheat is part of a "conspiracy" by multinational companies to undermine Sri Lanka's food security.

It is urging bakers to use wheat flour and rice flour in making bread - something bakers say is difficult to do.

The government also says phasing out wheat-based products will lead to healthier diets.

"What the fuck," I believe, is an entirely appropriate sentiment faced with this news.

The Economist has also noted the government's campaign against women wearing indecent clothing, unmarried couples sharing hotel rooms, and couples of whatever marital status engaged in public displays of affection on the streets. Alcohol ads are also banned, unsurprisingly enough.

On a more serious note yet, Sarath Fonseka--the military general responsible for the Sri Lankan government's victory over the Tamil Tigers--is also trying Fonseka, the only credible contender for the incumbent president in the recent elections, for competing with the current government and for alleging the government's authorization of war crimes at the end of the war. (The assasinations of journalists, civil society activists, and members of ethnic minorities including the Tamils, should surprise no one.)

Sri Lanka is becoming a totalitarian polity. Regulating personal relationships, sharp delimiting the bounds of personal expression, limiting the consumption of certain foodstuffs--how can Sri Lanka not be edging towards a particularly Buddhist-tinged, Sinhalese-nationalist, globalization-savvy polity?

[VLOG] "Dating Advice For The Newly Out"

The below isn't my video, of course. Rather, it's Californian YouTube user Matthew Chilelli's. Linked to by Joe. My God., it explores a major problem surrounding people newly come out: how do they find someone to date?

Three points.

1. This shows the commonalities underlying same-sex and opposite-sex dating both. There's so much uncertainty.

2. I should be, but likely won't, watch more vlogs. Podcasts might be easier.

3. I so need a better webcam. And eye contact.