Sunday, June 16, 2013

Weekend Links

  • The NYT has managed to dig up some more color on Snowden.
  • Hmmm - since 2009 I've been working under the assumption that Iran's elections were fixed, but that led me to be completely incorrect in predicting this election.  So time to update my beliefs - the 2009 election corruption was a freak?  Ahmadinijad really did win?  The regime decided it needed to moderate this time?  Not sure what to think.
  • China is planning to move 250 million rural residents to cities in the next 12 years.  It sounds like farmers are being forced off their land wholesale and into cities at an enormous pace.  Makes enclosure sound positively humane.


Stephen B. said...

What a colossal mistake China is making with this HUGE urbanization push.

Sure, on paper, to so many planners, economists, and technologists, moving civilization to high-rise cities and urban jobs makes sense. Agriculture is then consolidated as are the multitude of services delivered to the population. New economies of scale prevail. Cities, in some ways, are good for the environment as they concentrate their damage in one spot. A 200 unit high rise takes less energy per square foot than 200 cottages, etc. etc. Ya da, ya da, ya da. Most of us here have heard all that before and understand it.

But what is the cost to the human mind of living that way? Isn't this exactly what we've been seeing in the US going on a couple of generations now? Sure, having millions of people living in condos and apartments by the beltway or even downtown is supposed to free people to sit in coffee houses reading good books or Internet articles after they come home from whatever satisfying, technology job they took on compared to their grandparents working a dirt farm in Indiana (or wherever.) The reality that results, however, is a bored populace sitting around the condo playing endless XBox or watching corporate-driven TV, eating mass-produced microwave food until it's time to go back to the office cubicle (or wait for the next recharge of their EBT card.) Then come the rise of single-parent homes, the rise of single mothers, more dependent on handouts, men who cannot get jobs (not everybody can be a doctor or lawyer), boys with no outlet for their energy, no male role models in their homes, no yard to play in. Then will come the gangs.

Yeah, maybe cash income is higher living the "modern" way than if more of us were still living closer to the land in a more rural setting or even a less dense, urban one, but none of these metrics modern life proponents use can quantify what all of this bland, streamlined modernity does to human happiness.

I grew up as a kid in a rural suburb in the 60s and 70s. There were always things for me to do around the house, yard, or neighborhood. Nowadays I see (and work with) legions of kids with nothing to do, living as they do in sanitized houses, apartments, in highly paved neighborhoods.

Sadly, I can see how countries like China and their leaders, focused by years of cold economic and political training and thinking, cannot see how massive, modern, corporate, urbanized living is killing the idea of what it means to be human in places like the US. They simply see modernization and they want some of it for themselves too.

Rich is not just having a few $$ or Yuan in the bank with a fridge and TV. It's having things to occupy one's hands and mind, a small stream to walk to. For a kid it's a dog or chicken to interact and play with with some grass or other plants outside the back door to watch the bees on.

Growing up on the 27th floor of some neo-Brutalist, concrete high-rise, and having to ride the elevator down to the sidewalk just to see the corporately-raised blue grass lawn (do Scotts and Monsanto do much business in China yet?) is no way for a 10 year old to live.

China can expect ADHD and many other measurements of mental distress and illness, to start climbing - and probably outright skyrocket.

They're following the industrialized, corporate, West's worst mistakes. Fools.

sunbeam said...

I have an alternate take on rural areas.

You know how when you live in a city with a beach, you never go to the beach? Unless someone visits from out of town? (Or you surf or fish or something I guess)

Well in my experience, most rural people live the same way you describe the city people. Watching TV, playing XBox, much the same thing as what you describe.

Even if it's reasonably close no one really wants to go look at yet another long needle pine tree.

Kids today just aren't really into nature. It's a lot duller than than electronic reality.

I also think that the reason you have so much outdoor activity in an area like the Northwest is because of the climate. It's invigorating.

Live in Louisiana or South Georgia, and you aren't going to feel much like hiking in the summer. Heck you aren't going to feel like fishing in that climate.

James said...

I thought this analysis by Juan Cole was the best I have seen on the Iranian elections:

To quote Cole:
"Iran is not yet a totalitarian dictatorship, and Khamenei himself has sometimes been forced to tack with the wind."

Perhaps what he meant to say was "Iran is not completely a totalitarian dictatorship" ... in that the Ayatollahs have historically been willing to give the Iranians a lot of self determination in day to day affairs, while keeping firm control on religious and foreign policy issues.

I think it is also a shrewd PR move with respect to "the west", ahead of what I see as inevitable military conflict. It is a PR move that should produce ongoing dividends as I suspect Rouhani genuinely does wish to mend bridges with the west.

Yair said...

RE Iran, the main difference it seems is divides within the conservative camp this time, in contrast it was united behind Ahmedinejad in 2009. Also Rouhani is far more cautious and conservative than Mousavi.
But if anything the results this time only strengthen the sense that 2009 was rigged: e.g, the fact that this time results were counted over two days (the previous time they announced them within hours). Also, given that decisive Rouhani's win is seen as a rejection of Ahmedinejad, and given that most problems with Ahmedinejad were there also 4 years ago, it would seem quite a remarkable swing in public opinion, from a clear-cut win to Ahmedinejad last time to a clear-cut win of his critics.

Chieftain of Seir said...

Re: Iran

It all depends on how you define rigged. A lot of candidates were disqualified before the election was even allowed to take place. What Iran elected was the most liberal candidate that Khamenei would allow to run.

As someone who has followed Iranian history to a limited extent, I would say the over all trend in Iran has been towards a more rigged election not less. Past Iranian presidents would now be considered too liberal to stand.

Stephen B. said...


While kids certainly are drawn to the virtual reality that is video games and TV nowadays, my experience working with kids of all ages at our residential school (on 170 acres) says that younger kids below the age of 13 or so, will chose outdoor experiences over electronics most all of the time. Only when kids get to 14 to 17 at our facility do they seem to prefer electronics, the indoors, a shopping mall trip, and our gymnasium.

My second home and farm is in Aroostook County (in *far* northern) Maine and I would say that there is no shortage of people up there hunting, fishing, hiking, boating, snowmobiling, ATVing, camping, and just plain being outside - this in a 9300 heating degree day climate. While people may not live in the outside to the extent they did 50 years ago, I can assure you, you won't be alone outside in Aroostook if you go (though with just 75,000 or so people scattered over a county larger than the state of Connecticut, you will have some distance between you and everybody else.

Several hundred people drove to extreme northwestern Maine earlier today just to watch the annual State of Maine moose hunting permit lottery:

I think more to the point of Stuart's blog, I see a great deal many humans retreating to the indoors, driven there by a variety of circumstances such as this "rural cleansing" going on in China as a friend of mine calls it. People are increasingly holed up in very urban digs, surrounded by artificial, perhaps electronic realities to escape the drudgery of their modern, urban existence.

Whether some technological singularity comes along in time and/or in enough quantity to save the masses from slowly going nuts in their 27th floor, concrete bird nest remains to be seen.

Frankly, I am very doubtful.

Aimee said...

Sunbeam - as a mother of young children who moved from the city to the country a few years ago, I think I'm qualified to comment. In my experience, ALL kids need to be pushed outdoors. The difference is, in a purely urban setting there is no outdoors to push them to. There is an immense psychological difference between having choices one does not fully take advantage of, and having no choices. Children with no place to play are poorer in every respect - physically, mentally, spiritually - than children who have options, even if those options are underutilized. Sure, the poverty of the urban landscape can and should be addressed, and in many wealthy areas it is. In my old place in Seattle we were one block from a playfield and we had a backyard big enough to kick a ball in and have a dog . That's an unimaginable luxury for kids growing up in the mega-cities of Mexico, China, India, etc. Having just spent a year in a large Mexican city, I can tell you that even middle class kids have very little access to any natural areas whatsoever. There isn't the slightest doubt in my mind that lack of interaction with nature causes a kind of "failure to thrive" of the imagination. Couple that with the fear that comes with living in dangerous urban settings, and you have a stunted spirit. There are certainly advantages to city dwelling - many advantages. But if a country is going to consciously push people into mega-cities, I would hope they are willing to invest in massive infrastructure for sidewalks, parks, open spaces, sporting facilties, tree planting and other areas that keep their citizens mentally healthy.

Anonymous said...

I live in an area 8 miles from a town of 12,000. We have several houses in a short distance. No kids outside. Last couple of decades, I've lived in several small towns with plenty of outdoors available very close.

Actually, I really appreciate the retreat indoors. My wife and I sit on the front porch having our evening drinks and all is quiet, peaceful and much appreciated.

Personally, I don't have a clue about the "good, the bad and the ugly" nor do I think anyone else does. Frankly, I encounter very few adults who have a clue about the "outdoors". They ride some loud machine which blocks any sense of anything except the roar of the engine. Or they have some specialty activity which limits their experience to that activity.

I grew up with a trapper father and spent endless hours, on foot, in the woods where I learned a whole lot about nature which I deeply prize. America has been dead set on destroying the "wilderness" since our inception. Modern life, no matter what era, is the exact opposite of nature, get used to it.