"Competition, we have now learnt, is neither good nor evil in itself; it is a force which has to be studied and controlled; it may be compared to a stream whose strength and direction have to be observed, that embankments may be thrown up within which it may do its work harmlessly and beneficially. But at the period we are considering it came to be believed in as a gospel, and, the idea of necessity being superadded, economic laws deduced from the assumption of universal unrestricted competition were converted into practical precepts, from which it was regarded as little short of immoral to depart."

Arnold Toynbee, "Lectures on the Industrial Revolution," 1880

Perhaps the continuing reports of thinning ice-caps, the result of liberalized global industrial capitalism, indicate a remarkable prescience in Toynbee's choice of metaphor.


Yesterday, I was asked, in an examination on Urban History and Theory, to situate Patrick Geddes in the anarchist tradition. Anarchy, I have recently found, is much more disciplined than a slashed red "A" would lead you to believe. It's not about recklessness, but about cooperation -- inherently Utopian. So my assignment for myself (which all one or two of you are party to) is to read up a bit on Proudhon, Reclus, La Play, Bakunin, and Kropotkin and see what it is that the public might be able to accomplish if given the means.

And it seems that French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin envisions the European Union as an international policeman, protecting the general interest (social justice and the environment) from short-term private interests. This, I suppose, would put the EU in a bit of a difficult position relative to the flurry of trade liberalization agreements which have identified the public interest to BE short-term, unjust, environmentally degrading private interests. The consensus is that the French PM's version of the future of the EU has more to do with internal political grandstanding than with reality. It's a shame.


Here is Alan Kay in an early article about software: "The intent of these examples is not to get everyone to drop all programming in favor of spreadsheets[...]Users must be able to tailor a system to their wants. Anything less would be as absurd as requiring essays to be formed out of paragraphs that have already been written."

My first impression is that this crank had it all wrong, that programming is more or less irrelevant now to the vast majority of computer users. But then I looked him up. As it turns out, Dr. Kay is responsible for 1) the idea of personal computing, 2) the laptop, 3) the overlapping window interface, 4) object-oriented programming, 5) workstations, 6) EtherNet, 7) Laserprinting, 8) Client-servers, 9) 3-D graphics, and 10) ARPANet (later, the internet)

So let's revisit that early pronouncement and turn it on it's head. I think we HAVE reached the day when we require essays to be formed out of paragraphs that have already been written. Welcome to the metasphere.


Today I bought a large bottle of Blanche de Namur to enjoy on the terrace while I read Rem Koolhaas. In this world, so many things are possible. You should also do something today which one never would have expected to be possible given only the rude outlines of the world.


Today I was reading in Working for Change about what they call the U.S.'s "gift" to the Taliban of $43 million in foreign aid to "reward" them for cracking down on poppy-growing. The U.N. has responded favorably to the precipitous drop in opium production. Their inspectors (which, for security reasons did not include US representatives) were elated to find only onions and wheat where they had seen opium a year before - a year during which Afghanistan was the world's leader in opium production. They UN called on the world to help Afghani farmers convert to other crops - a process that is not easy since opium was so much hardier and more profitable than any alternative. Nevertheless, when faced with grenade-launchers, beatings and jail sentences, farmers are eager to comply with the new revelation that poppy growing is incompatible with Islamic law (as is, apparently receiving medical treatment if you are female, preserving monuments to other cultures on your land, wondering if someone might be a hindu, etc.). It seems like the question isn't whether the help is needed, but whether it comes in the form of development aid to farmers or as a reward to a regime that spits on human rights. (Later we'll ask the question about whether either option is good.)


I should mention that during this period of exams (and potentially during the period of thesis-writing and travel that follows) that weblogging can not be a priority. Nevertheless I do have an addiction. If you really want to keep track of me, then for now, the best place to go is FilePile and look around. My contributions are archived under my username (Dystopos) for 48 hours.


Today I read Alexander Tzonis and Liane Lefaivre's 1976 article "In the Name of the People" about the Populist movement in architecture. They argue that this movement, seemingly a reaction against the scientific rational modernist approach to delivering shelter as prototypical design products was in reality merely a refinement of that process making use of the success of establishing populations as markets. This is an ongoing process which seems, in the recent news about clashes over global trade liberalization, to be reaching a critical point in its establishment as a universal paradigm for living. In this reductive scenario all aspects of life are made consumer choices and issues of justice are reduced to making the global market of consumer goods more evenly accessible. Their take was that this masks the underlying dependencies based on the means of production which in fact structure all social relationships. That argument, either because they're off-base or because they're exactly right, doesn't really hit me. What does interest me is that in Ultima Online, that bizarre hybrid of role-playing social experiment and work of historical fiction, users faced with a society that rewards experience and violence more than it does economic practices, and an economy structured to give no real benefit to hoarding, someone amassed over twelve thousand shirts. When and how did the instinct for competition translate so effectively into monetary terms?