Landscape organizes everything within sight.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Buying and selling reality

Read anything about the market for virtual land recently? The IRS has. Virtual markets are here to stay.

I don't know if those folks realize how much potential the thing they've invented has, but the Networking Working Group sure has.


Bidding down the specie market
Raising up the market in time

Make time stop.
Cash in your Dollars for Squidgets.

Jo Guldi, Brian Sarrazin and the Networking Working Group
March 2006

Capitalism has a problem, but it’s not the market. Markets create efficiency, discourse, competition, and dialogue. Old world markets are the one sit where lepers, women, immigrants, prostitutes, burghers, and priests all vend their wares, subject only to the will of the masses. The problem with capitalism isn’t the market; it’s the market of specie.

The specie market can bid against other markets: the individual time market, the community values market, the market in ideas, the war and peace market. If specie is running high (as it is in America today), someone with a lot of currency can outbid someone with a lot of time. They can outbid the media, the ideas market, the war market, and the community values market.

Where human, individual time has a high currency value, no amount of currency can buy a man’s entire day. Time is to be cherished and valued for itself, saved up; spent only on something of incomparable value.

The problem in America today is that specie is liquid but time and values aren’t. One solution is a violent overthrow of all financial and political institutions, and a retreat into a centralized authority or rejection of all authority; both tend to be inherently unstable, repressive, and violent.

Another solution is to bulk up the currency of one institution. Bulk up how much people value the respect of their immediate community. Give them something they can show for it: my neighbors and local taquerieas think I’m a charitable, loving person; I have a badge. People do things for the love of their neighbors. They do things actively and assertively because it gives them the respect of others. Make community value or time or ideas visible, and watch people flood in to bargain for them.

History is changing the flexibility of the market. Gamers spend thousands of dollars for mythic swords that only exist on the screen. The IRS started asking about what’s actually being traded in folks’ tax accounts. The market is suddenly flexible, and will allow us to trade anything we think could exist. Now is the time to invent markets that could compete with specie. Now is the time to make sure that specie becomes devalued in comparison with time, ideas, and community.

The trade in squidgets could devalue the dollar compared with time, ideas, and community as never before.

Squidgets originated in a caffeinated Berkeley conversation about the problematic irrelevance of so much volunteer activity – how isolated it is, how little one has to show for it, how much one has to make time for it and rework one’s life to contribute even a little. Students spend hours on myspace because they value the praise of their community, but volunteering is hard because it’s so distant, so relevant, and so hard to plug into from the busy stream of daily chores.

The solution is wildcat banking of squidgets. The little hip girl who bakes the cake for the activist tent revival gets five squidgets for her work. A ticker on her blog shows her friends how cool she is for earning the squidgets. All she had to do was show up to the event and give them something. She feels good about working with them; she feels like her friends value what she does.

Squidgets are traded against dollars. The philanthropist who favors the activities of the tent revival buys squidgets for dollars. The organizer who worked a year at forty hours a week gets $40,000 for her 40,000 squidgets. Fiona, who baked a cake for the ten revival, might be able to cash in her five squidgets for a latte at the community-oriented coffee shop, where the owner used to give free coffee to other activists Fiona’s never been there. Now she’s immediately known by others in the squidget market, by virtue of owning squidgets. People want to know, where is it she got her squidgets from? Does she like working with them? What did they talk about, do, organize, plan, notice at the tent revival?

Squidgets are competive. Red Cross squidgets can be bought and sold against LGBT student center squidgets on the open market. If society values the Red Cross, the Red Cross Squidget sells for more; if, in Berkeley, members of a co-op prefer the LGBT association’s work against AIDS to that of the Red Cross, the Red Cross Squidget may become very devalued indeed. Squidgets reflect the values of the society in which they’re bought and sold.

Squidgets are organic and egalitarian. Anyone can start minting Squidgets. Maria started minting the Maria Squidget yesterday because she and a few neighbors wanted to thank the folks showing up to the soup kitchen. If Maria can log onto E-Bay, she can mint and distribute Squidgets.

Squidgets are self-correcting as well If holders of the Maria Squidget notice too many Maria Squidgets on the market because Maria payed the soup kitchen shelf several billion Maria Squidgets for his labor, they can bid out of the Maria Squidget before it devalues.

Squidgets inherently privilege civic interactions that promote the long-term good in favor of future generations. The Bob Squidget rises against the Maria Squidget only if folks in the neighborhood believe that Bob’s work is more meaningful, of a higher quality, and more likely to last than Maria’s. If Bob rebuilds New Orleans, the Bob Squidget rises because folks believe that Bob’s work in New Orleans will matter and pay off in one hundred years.

The purpose of Squidgets is to increase the visibility, liquidity, and veneration of individual time and community values. Squidgets compete with the dollar, and where Squidgets are bid against dollars, the importance of community service, long-term planning, and neighborhood esteem bids up against the value of the pure monetary economy.

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Monday, March 20, 2006

Don't bother with the domestic news about Iraq

Notice how civil war has all but escaped our front pages?

Today, the International Herald Tribune explains that from the inside telling, Iraq has officially been lost already. The IHT argues that a media-savvy insurgency started to develop a year ago after America started twisting publicity and threatening reporters: the media-savvy insurgency is now mature, and they've declared victory as they see it; America has no future in Iraq.

Le Monde echoes this sentiment and reports:

Non seulement l'Irak va s'effondrer, a-t-il dit, mais le sectarisme va se répandre dans toute la région, et même l'Europe et les Etats-Unis ne seraient pas épargnés.
Trois ans après l'offensive américaine en Irak, la crainte d'une guerre civile plane / | 20.03.06 / ;Le

Which is to say, the new insurgents are fighting their own war, a war whose menace we should have sensed when the dome of Samarra fell. The French know that their own country is populated by sects whose allegiance goes back to Iraq, and they can only imagine what a Europe at war between rival Islamic sects would look like.

Time to stop talking about Saddam and negotiating with both sides, one might think.

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Sunday, March 19, 2006

Veterans in the swamp, hopes in the dumps

In the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, Demond Mullins, who returned from heavy combat in Iraq only five months ago, looked out at the ravaged, filthy wreckage in a quiet furry.

"I can't believe this. This is worse than Baghdad. What my country has become sickens me."

-- Christian Parenti, writing March 19, in the Nation

I've been keeping track of James's travels via his blog: these days it makes stiff reading indeed. He's been the documentarian for the Veterans' antiwar march through the wake of Katrina wreckage.

He reports that several of them can't bear to return home after the march, feeling as they do the fierceness of need. am touched by that ache in James's writings. We loose track of the level of misery we stand in so easily. Only a great act of writing or art can wake us up and bring us out of our stupor.

I find it painful, after reading James's blog, to reflect on the state of activism among my own community, the Progressive Christians. True, we're young; true, unorganized, diverse; bound up with decade-long interior arguments. And yet, standing on churches with hundred-year traditions and such thick memberships and such ostensible commitment to the movements of the Holy Spirit, shaking us down to compassion at every sparrows' fall, how is it that we cannot summon a collective or sustained message of outrage?

Is it that Habitat for Humanity and the church soup kitchens, in the end, serve as a paliative to the conscience, numbing appropriate outrage, stilling the noise of condmenation? My family and friends in Texas send their donations and remind me that people are charitable and good.

And then there are the Veterans, months later, standing in the muck, proclaiming it "Still Worse than Baghdad." Quitting their jobs to stay and rebuild. My mood tonight is depressive. If 250 Veterans could change each others' lives, how is it that our thousands of clergy and churchgoers cannot rethink their own?

Taken in purely practical terms, guilt set aside, leave me my passing and moody envy of a talented ex-boyfriend's budding activist career. If 250 veterans could make the Nation and produce a documentary, how is it our ossified institutions of church goers can't think up a compelling publicity campaign, an experience that actually changes the mind of middle class citizens, or an event worthy of news coverage?

Tell me, seriously. I know you read my blog. Have I chosen the wrong group of activists to run with?

Read more cause for outrage and view more distressing pictures of lingering Katrina wreckage at Stan Goff's webpage. Jeff Wells is almost as depresesd as I am.

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Saturday, March 18, 2006

Witnessing with History

Sometimes these days I feel like an intellectual coward. I can remember leaping to have the conversation about religion with friends and strangers curious about this singular liberal who *really* *actually* goes to church. I can remember the thrill of the argument, the high school philosophy, the debates over whether the church had caused more evil or good in the world, the witnessing to a personal savior.

It's been a while. But when, a few weeks ago, two of my fantastic friends threw a dinner party and invited me, the food was so wonderful and the company so charming I could scarcely do anything but respond when they threw me the bait.

Sure, we all know that there's a religion gene; perhaps the phenomena it causes one to experience are real, certainly real to some subset of believers. But what about all that time people spend on the church? The hours in prayer, study, fellowship, ritual? Isn't it (they said, here smiling a little) just as bad or worse as Burning Man -- which at least only comes once a year -- a festival that drains the real community building spirit out of a community, which fritters away its political enthusiasm for utopian art projects that have no relevance to every-day struggles?

I mean, whether or not I've gone off of *arguing* about the church, saying that it's worthless neutral or bad even to the order of Burning Man is pretty stiff judgment, and worthy of an argument, and given that the judgment is contrary to my experience.

My own experience is one of an institution whose purpose everywhere expressed is to prod people into knowledge of self and taking the people around them seriously. Good people, good results; bad people, mixed results. The Church can't be held responsible for existing in warring Europe, nations of torture, nations of xenophobia, etc., yet Christians talking as Christians in any private context always end up as open-eared as any good university professor, in my own experience -- contrary to depiction in the media. And probably, yes, contrary to the experience of most of my shaggy-haired friends. But that, to me, is all about american regions' intolerance of other American regions, straight up and down, and it has nothing to do with the church. All the darker that the church can't overcome regions' distrust of regions.

I guess the feeling of intellectual cowardice genuinely comes down to entering the tenth year or so of being the freak Christian among all my other friends. Maybe it's like having to be always called on stage as the speaker on behalf of all women, or the speaker on behalf of all Jews or homosexuals; one begins to wish for a little more sympathy from the audience.

One gets tired of apologizing for all one's kind (yes I suppose there are pedophiles but we're not all etc etc), or having to draw tedious distinctions between Those People and My People and My Friends. One begins to wonder if even the Southern Baptists don't deserve some benefit of the doubt, trying as they are to have some conversation with people like them (of course like them) about how they might run their families or their consciences better. Much of the content of which is excellent: forgiveness, charity, encouragement - all those dynamics which, whether learned or natural, do so much to ease human life.

Most of all one sort of wants to sit around savoring the traditions one has with a sympathetic audience. As if noting how a particular movie or novel had affected one, in the company of someone who had felt something similar, or as if conjecturing that if one of Jane Austen's characters could learn to make a better choice about dealing with one's parents, one could too. Similar conversations about scripture are the stuff of my people, the stuff of every-evening conversations among parents and aunts and cousins. Hence the great romantic loneliness of the spiritualist in the coastal city.

In general (not having to do with that particular dinner party, which was great fun) I'd like more benefit of the doubt, if you will. At least a healthy curiosity about what this kind of insight and privileged experience of those with the certain gene is like, rather than the instant urge to identify the Christian with the Hegemon and the Evil (much as the Jew with lucre and usury...). To be sure, a story with a healthy intellectual narrative, this latter half of the twentieth century. But again, I think that's mostly about regions' distrust of regions', about the coastal Jewish urbanites (and outcast displaced liberal sympathizers turned atheists) looking to turn against *all* institutions, all history, all hierarchy in the 60s. Down with the patriarchy. Down with the university with its hypocrites, and the church with its super hypocrites, all used by power to send us to Vietnam to die worthlessly, oh the hypocrisy: point to the inquisition, not how Martin Luther led the Peasant Rebellion, not to Civil Rights or Womens Franchise.

Evangelical atheism has its own story about history which is just about as mythic as religious histories -- in the latter god always rules everything and man is going either up or down at all times. In the former, there is no god, then the sudden rise of a priestly caste, then *poof* the enlightenment, and we're all better.

Surely a more intellectually respectful history would acknowledge a plurality of uses of culture in different ritual/religious senses -- the religion of fashion, the religion of art, the religion of capital, all of them leading to their own idolatries and crushing the individual in new and more interesting ways all the time, as other rituals (spiritual, artistic, intellectual) simultaneously evolve to free the poor individuals...

There's nothing more natural than rewriting history to your own advantage. Bless the evangelical atheists, they only practiced the lies of those they hate.

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Friday, March 17, 2006

Graduate Student Reading Room at Stephens Hall

reading room
Originally uploaded by joguldi.
...where the coffee is only $0.75.

What I'm working on these days: reading.

  • R. A. Leeson, Travelling Brothers: The six centuries' road from craft fellowship to trade unionism, 1979
  • Peter Clark, British Clubs and Societies, 1580-1800: The origins of an associational world, 2000.
  • Walter Dexter, Some Rogues and Vagabonds of Dickens, 1927.

I am generally working on the history of vagrants, tramping, traveling artisans, itinerant ministers, migration, and the Irish; getting a good sense of who was on the road when and how far they travelled.

By the 1790s, many of my precious eccentrics are regularly walking 1500 miles in a year around the shires and villages of old England, expecting beer, hospitality, solid inns, and friendly fellows wherever they go.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Pinkest Hephalump

Thrift store shopping this weekend was good to us. No more chasing the green fairy; the pink elephant is now chasing me!

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Monday, March 13, 2006

American Plans

Maybe it was the implosion of leadership at Harvard last month, maybe it was the shooting of the progressive Christian peacemaker in Baghdad, maybe the Civil War over there, maybe the fall out of Dick Cheney's shooting with exculpation. Bizarre collapses of institutions seem to be happening so often these days that you just get used to it. If you're in your twenties and thirties, maybe you just assume that growing up means learning to tolerate institutional incompetence and get on with your job. But when your parents and elders reach the same pitch of surprise, the speculation starts.

This weekend produced one of those achy discussions with a friend when you try to figure out how we got where we got so that we can get out as soon as we can.

How is it that we all knew about global warming in the 70s, and Green Architecture firms abound, but no university has a Green City Planning Department looking at what to do when cities flood? How is it that we all knew about debt and social security and still did nothing?

If you're a theologian, you might just shrug and say that human greed is a powerful temptation.

But beyond an individual scale, what happened to the American penchant for planning ahead? Where did it all go? In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, America was known for its unperterbable inclination to invent and plan and form community structures, guarding against happenstance. Greed doesn't just dissolve institutions. Their leadership has to become corrupt, fragment, and disappear. Their support systems have to fade. Their patrons have to become distracted by other issues.

So if you're an American historian, the problem gets a little more tricky than just greed. The theory begins to run that our institutions have been melting down since 1975.

Michael Kazin and David Hollinger, modern historians I talk to about the problem of how progressive Christianity seemingly disappeared (and in fact disappeared from media, politics, and education) tag the 1950s and 60s as the "Second American Civil War" - where old regional divides were enforced by the influx of intellectuals from Europe, and the battle took legal and institutional rather than martial forms.

Watching Alice's Restaurant and Easy Rider, for example, is a good place to start when tracing the landscape of that Second Civil War. Yankee farmers with their wholesome values get into trouble when they meet their Western or Southern cousins, who don't like their long hair. The Vietnam War opens up the broader problem of commitments abroad based on capitalism instead of sustainability. Pretty soon you're sending off the neighboring region's unwillling kids to die.

Seriously, for good discussions of this, it's mostly about gleaning the real tidbits of conversation from late twentienth century historians who have thought about it but write pr textbooks -- like Kazin, who's absolute gold in company, or Richard Candida Smith, who in person is a pure fire streak of interpretation. Both of them tend to be sympathetic for the reasons for fragmentation: remember that it's a racial issue in which Jews and Hispanics (ikn addition to African Americans) won the sympathy of the North and so stake themselves as the angriest of partisans against the South. Kazin and Smith are very aware of that, and it makes them more sympathetic to the reasons for the war than perhaps my friend, who wonders what happened to the American aptitude for planning as a result of the war.

No one can deny that a great deal of conversation about planning ahead for sustainable communities was lost in the process of inventing political correctness and fighting political correctness. What's lacking is people who are interested in talking about *what* was lost.

Military people, for instance, are. And conspiracy theorists are. And my last year of casual dallying for fun has convinced me that there are two places there to look if one's really interested in when and how and why:

1) Stan Goff, a retired navy seal, whose many books are basically an attempt to understand why the military stopped doing Cultural Intelligence -- he says, pure and simple racism. The military couldn't invent real reasons to keep blacks out of the seals, and the military was *real* scared of cultural intelligence armed blacks with guns. So they switched from OSS ops to terminator-type genetically modified killing robots and invented lots of fake reasons why blacks woudn't fit the purely genetic tests ("blacks can't swim" etc).

2) Jeff Wells, the nutcase but brilliant Canadian novelist, whose blog Rigorous Intuition consitutes one long thought experiment about when and how and why American politics and military started messing around with Hollywood connections, and thus with New Age connections. One can remain skeptical (as Jeff mostly is) about whether or not the New Age magic is actually real, and still believe that Uri Geller types were dropping a lot of acid, seeing a lot of weird shit, and speculating about whether they could control the subconscious of the citizenry.

Oh, and maybe such thinking gave way to institutional idolization of an illuminati model rather than a democratic model for national leadership, in which the elite were prepared to give up on saving the nation in the face of certain impending disasters - overpopulation, nuclear, pollution, warming etc etc - and so theorized about a 'culling of the herd.' 'Culling the herd' cuts way beyond normal human greed, stretching into the realm of an original and unconsciousable relationship to other human beings, power, and life.

Fun fun fun. For if such a kind of elitism is actually prevelant in any form, it would mean that at this point, now, it's possible that many people with power hav checked out of the game of long-term planning to make things better. It would mean that most people now simply reckon that we're nearing collapse, just as c19 Britain reckoned that its imperial expansion was bleeding its real sources of stability dry, and thus started fantasizing about wild collapse (earthquakes in london, vampires, etc etc etc -- see the that wonderful book Derek Jarrett's (sp) The Sleep of Reason). In which case, *of course* you'd see increasing displays of attention deficit disorder among the reigning bureaucrats. Of course you'd see FEMA defaulting and middle America caring more about Armageddon than about rising malnutrition in their own neighborhoods. Of course any concerted attempts to plan ahead, to work on international education and free institutions and committed communities, would strike many people as already dead on the tracks. There would be no going forward any more, for the people living in world of nightmares.

Until an alternative was formulated that was so clear, so simple, and so plain a path back to reason, that person by person the world might slowly wake up again and get back to work.

Pray for a ministry to the elite, to reach them in their seats of power, to wake us up, to bring us back to our humanity.

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Friday, March 10, 2006

Trying out this whole Performancing thing

Theoretically, I can now tag my blog entries. Happy day!

Performancing is an
add-on to the Firefox browser which theoretically is supposed to make this whole "tagging" thing work... and theoretically I'm teaching the world of activits about "tagging" so that they can index and find each others work more easily. So let's see how it works!

In theory, this entry (gaily typed into a nifty box at the bottom of my browser, no login necessary) should automatically let me link to tags (see the cute links below), which in turn link to similar other entries as categorized by or technorati.

And then theoretically my nifty sidebar yonder can point you all to my discussions of the city, sex, and God, separately, depending on what you're interested in on that particular day.

Now wouldn't that be fun?

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Kami graffiti at UC Berkeley

kami graffiti at uc berkeley
Originally uploaded by joguldi.
One of the woodland gods from Miyazaki's precious film, Princess Mononoke.

Just sitting there. Imagine. Staring down the political science professors as they go here and there.

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Thursday, March 09, 2006

Night on the town

My roommates were out or being treated by boyfriends to lavish dinners, so I was feeling a bit sorry for myself.

So I took a notebook and launched down 22nd street with the intention of launging at the friendly warm tables of the Revolution Café, hoping for, at best, a dreary evening of writing serious meditations on the spirit and so expurgating my soul from its wretched self-pity.

But alas, the Revolution has been taken over by well-dressed yuppies, and the homeless people playing chess had cleared out several months ago, taking the novelists and drummers with them, ever since the owner (an installation artist) sold the café and moved to LA earlier this year. The Revolution is dead, long live the Revolution.

There was really nothing to do about it, so I trotted round the corner to that one last reserve of the serious and the decadent, beloved hidden reserve of straight men in the city where they’re hard to find, Bar Amnesia.

Arriving at Amnesia, I took the one free stool, and found myself talking to Bob, a Peace Corps veteran (from Malawi in the 60s) who recently biked across America (the Southern route, by way of Katrina devastation). Someone came round with birthday cake as the Gaucho Gypsy Jazz band started winding down.

As the sound engineers got going for the Mitch Marcus Sessions, I started conversing with Mark, a personal life coach who owns a small chain of automated photobooths. He spends his life telling people who love beaches that they should reorganize their lives to spend more time on beaches.

I was seriously feeling the Amelie moment by now. We were deep into our Delerium Tremens (most delicate of neo-Belgian beers) by the time his friend arrived, by skateboard, with five Japanese girls fresh from Tokyo in tow. They’d met that afternoon on the subway and immediately gone back to his place for a costume party.

San Francisco, God bless you in your varied madness. A fine town indeed. Just the thing to cheer a girl up.

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Silence and Race in Abortion

South Dakota is swiftly becoming a social experiment for all theories about abortion and society.

The Seattle Times this week released an excellent article that identifies the way abortion has become not an issue so much about a single procedure, but a miniature laboratory for running thought experiments about what produces good kids and bad.

That is, pro-choice advocates argue that bad kids are produced by society, and are the responsibility of wise lawmakers; conservatives argue that bad kids are a product of bad values, and that bad values are best fixed by a proper social attitude towards existential questions like human life.

Interwoven with each of these topics are flash-issues rarely noticed by most observers when talking simply about the Thomas Frank values vs reason split between Republicans and Democrats: abortion becomes an issue about eugenics, race, and responsibility.

Abortion becomes a way of talking about fraught racial politics that no right-thinking intellectual would raise in public for fear of wandering into marshy areas indeed.

Read the article to understand:

University of Chicago economist Steven Levitt co-authored a famous study that connected the sharp drop in crime during the 1990s to the 1973 Roe decision in 1973. Its thesis, covered in the best-selling book 'Freakonomics,' was the following: Unwanted children are more likely to suffer abuse and grow up to be criminals in adolescence. Legalized abortion led to fewer unwanted babies. Crime rates began to fall exactly 18 years after Roe.

Conservative columnists have called the theory morally repugnant and smelling of eugenics -- the idea that society should improve the human stock by limiting 'undesirables.' Many pro-choice liberals have given these notions a wide berth because of their racial implications.

-- The Seattle Times: Opinion: "South Dakota must live with its abortion-ban decision"

Thanks to John for the reference.

Pictures of eyes, sight, frames, sunlight

geisha in frames, train window
Originally uploaded by joguldi.
Just uploaded to Flickr. I was taking these photographs in England as the train to the archives every morning passed through its gorgeous winter light, in and among the strange wastelands of London suburbs.
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Thursday, March 02, 2006


As of today, I have stepped down as Communications Director of CrossLeft.

Please feel free to contact me.