Have you ever been on the hunt for a writer who can approximate the horror and atrocities of all the sprawl and crappy buildings and freeways out there? I don't believe there's a better spot than James Howard Kunstler's Eyesore of the Month feature on his personal website. People send over photographic contestants, and Kunstler picks the winner each month with a caption.

Here's March, 2013, with Kunstler's caption below -- it's in the Paris suburbs, but since we're living in globalized times, the problems are the same (you can keep clicking back--the archive goes back by the year)


Get a load of this beauty. Social housing on the outskirts of Paris by the architectural firm Maison Edouard François. The awkward galumphing colossus manages to employ every schlock gimmick from the PoMo and DeCon playbooks: the homage to industrial banality, the confusion of building typologies, the arbitrary change of cladding materials, the ironic "squashing" of the "row houses" along the base (to make the point that gravity is a joke), the iconic horizontal window bands and flat roof, and the cartoon treatment of the bungalows perched playfully askew on top. The objective of this stunt-obsessed architecture is to confound our expectations about the urban habitat and the things in it, under the theory that life is not suffficiently anxiety-provoking -- so architects must supply more of it. Absent are the elements really needed in the urban setting: decorum, legibility, scale that will afford adaptive re-use over time, and a ground floor that shows some generosity to public life.

Thanks to reader James Mullen, who remarked of this: "I figure the only way the architect could make the building more outwardly annoying is to install speakers all around that amplify the recorded sound of fingernails on a chalkboard 24/7."

The austerity rollout in Southern Europe continues...this one is pretty unpleasant to watch -- in Cyprus, from Al Jazeera English:

Cyprus' parliament is to hold an extraordinary session to decide whether savers must pay a levy on bank deposits under terms for an international bailout to avoid bankruptcy - amid anger among bank savers who would be hard hit by the plans.

Ministers are in a race to thrash out draft legislation ratifying the bailout and push it through parliament before banks reopen on Tuesday after a long holiday weekend, including a pre-Easter carnival Sunday marred by the news.

It would be the first eurozone bailout in which private depositors would be forced to help foot the bill.

The excuse from the Newly elected Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades? That the island's two largest banks would have collapsed...

Meanwhile, the Al Jazeera article says that ATMS all over Cyprus have been emptied. Cypriots are going to get an explanation from Anastasiades on Sunday. According to the BBC, the new president said the $13 billion bargain was "a painful but controlled management of the crisis."

Painful? It's theft! 

"At one bank in the Limassol district, a frustrated man parked his bulldozer outside and threatened to break in," according to the BBC article.

And we got some high comedy from the Finance Minister, courtesy of the Financial Times

"“I am not happy with this outcome in the sense that I wish I was not the minister that had to do this,” Mr Sarris said. “But I feel that the responsible course of action of a minister that takes an oath to protect the general welfare of the people and the stability of the system did not leave us with any [other] options.”

In the name of general welfare.

A few weeks after my son was born at the end of August last year, I got a call from my old friend E in Brooklyn. His son was also a brand newbie. He had something he was dying to tell me--"Dude! Have you heard about elimination communication?" No was my reply, and so he broke it down... you study the patterns of when your newborn baby has to pee or poo, and try to time things right so that they are held over a toilet when it's time. The babies build up a habit/context of recognizing the circumstances and within a few months, you can catch most of the pees and poos in the toilet. To build up the habit, you've got to be fairly on your toes and pro-active about it. That was more or less E's thumbnail sketch. 

I told my wife, and she was game. We ordered a book about Elimination Communication (EC) -- fairly worthless, I'll get to that later -- but decided to try to start right away, since as parents of newborns, it's not like there's much else you're doing other than changing diapers. We had success right away; the second day we caught our son's first pee in the toilet -- he was 17 days old. A drop in the bucket so to speak, because newborns pee every 20 minutes or so. But it was definitely a morale booster.

We studied the patterns. In his first two months of life, our son would always pee within about 30 seconds of waking up from naps, within a minute after feeding, and he could be counted on to pee in his diaper every 20 to 30 minutes he was awake. He'd poop 4 or 5 times a day, starting with right when he first woke up in the morning. With both peeing and pooing he made sounds before -- these varied and weren't always synchronized with his actions, but they were good clues: a high pitched squeak for peeing and a more guttural gurgle that sometimes sounded like babbling before he pooed.

No exaggeration, I'd say within three weeks, we were catching half of everything in the toilet. You learn to be quick with taking the baby's diaper on and off -- that's key. The book we ordered had arrived mid-way at that point, and its best advice was to give the baby a sound cue to encourage it to pee/poo -- sometimes the wait can be up to a minute. Fairly quickly we noticed that the baby gained its ability to hold its bladder for longer and longer spells.

Fast forward to now, our son is 6 months old. This admittedly sounds like noxious playground parent bragging, but I'm trying to sell you on something here: He hasn't pooped in a diaper for at least two weeks. He lets us know when he has to go loud and clear. Most of the day, he's not wearing a diaper, just pants or shorts...and he can go about 45 mins to and hour or more without peeing. There's a pee accident once a week or so...not that big in the scheme of things. On a few occasions already, he has used his hands to wave at us and let us know he has to pee. He gets very angry and particular about being in an even slightly wet diaper.

The official Elimination Communication organization is pretty outfront in saying that it's not potty training. 

Well, whatever, it involves training the child to go to the bathroom over a toilet, and not using a diaper. I don't think it's for everyone, or for every baby raising context -- you've got to have serious dedication of at least one parent, better two, and the willingness to run to the bathroom with the child. Be prepared for many failed efforts, some accidents, etc. But newborn parenting is so intensive anyway, it's not like there's time to do much else ... you're tied to that kid, so why not do it, is what we concluded. 

The amount of waste associated with the raising of a newborn in the USA is staggering...it's some minor relief to be throwing away increasingly smaller piles of diapers. Our book said that the American infant stops wearing diapers at 24-30 months, when the world average is 18 months. Yet another area, where we aren't #1..."we," -- the big consumer cluster of the population -- teach our babies that diapers are toilets, and have an extended, unnecessary learning process.

If you try out EC, you'll discover quickly what works best in terms of holding the child over the toilet, what cue sound to make -- I use a soft whisper "Shhh" sound to make him pee and make loud fake farting sounds to encourage him to poo (these make him laugh), but you could use any you like. Last of all, I've learned from experienced ECers not to congratulate your child for doing the inevitable. Just carry on with life once it's over, just like adults do. I don't think a book is necessary, and I wouldn't spend much time reading online parenting forums. What you need is permission to take an exit ramp from the dominant culture, and try to get your baby to pee in the toilet, or at least something that isn't a diaper. 

Soon enough our son will be pooping in his own mini-toilet...and hopefully will be potty trained before he takes his first step...here's to hoping, anyway.

I remember reading the LA Times last April, there was an item about radioactive kelp off California's waters... a souvenir of sorts from the Fukushima disaster. 

"Radioactive iodine was found in samples collected from beds of kelp in locations along the coast from Laguna Beach to as far north as Santa Cruz about a month after the explosion, according to the study by two marine biologists at Cal State Long Beach."

The article claimed it was "most likely not harmful to humans" and at levels lower than the Chernobyl disaster in the '80s. Now, according to HuffPo,

Weeks after it was reported that overfishing had reduced the Pacific population of the fish, which is popular in sushi bars, by over 96 percent, researchers have found trace levels of radiation still lingering in their flesh almost two years after the catastrophe at the nuclear plant in Fukushima, Japan. And the 50 tuna they studied were all caught off the coast of California, 6,000 miles east of Japan, where they were born.

Hmm, but wasn't Fukushima almost two years ago? Yep. It's evidence that, as one scientist put it that "the plant is still leaking radiation into the ocean nearly two years later."




Great Texas Observer article by Sarah Angle, "SNAP Judgments: College Graduates Dependent On Food Stamps Are On the Rise." She shares her personal story, and along the way gives a great background on the nightmarish economic prospects for people coming out of college with BAs AND graduate degrees. Yikes.

Since 2007, Texas has added more than 1.4 million new food stamp recipients to its ranks. During the month of April—my first in the program—Tarrant County provided food stamp assistance to almost 220,000 residents at a cost of more than $27 million, according to Texas Health and Human Services. That means 12 percent of folks living in Tarrant County are carrying little white plastic cards like mine.

I never thought I’d need the help. I once bought two bicycles for $800 from a fancy bike shop. I got the helmets too, at $30 each. That’s nearly $1,000 of sports gear collecting dust in the garage of our three-bedroom ranch-style house near Fort Worth. I have a master’s degree in journalism. My husband was working on his MBA at the University of Texas at Arlington before he lost his job and before we ran out of money. According to The Chronicle of Higher Education, the number of graduate students clinging to white plastic lifelines is growing. Between 2007 and 2010, the number of students receiving food stamps doubled. Some 360,000 highly educated Americans now eat breakfast, lunch and dinner courtesy of Uncle Sam.

If you're curious about larger economic backdrop facing college grads, there's a great report from the Economic Policy Institute by Heidi Shierholz, Natalie Sabadish, and Hilary Wethin: "The Class of 2012: Labor market for young graduates remains grim"

The long-run wage trends for young graduates are bleak, with wages substantially lower today than they were in 2000. Between 2000 and 2011, the real (inflation-adjusted) wages of young high school graduates declined by 11.1 percent, and the real wages of young college graduates declined by 5.4 percent.

Young graduates lack opportunities for advancement, a trend underscored by the fact that there are now nearly 30 percent fewer voluntary quits each month than there were each month in 2007.

Forbes Magazine  ran a special up 'n close feature on Charles Koch in December. The article is a pastiche of the typical billionaire suck-up puffery you'd expect from Forbes with -- maybe it's just wishful thinking -- some genuine insights about one the most fiendish members America's ownership class.

There's plenty to read, but I want to share the big takeaway, Charles Koch's big concept that underwrites his funding of an ocean of business propagandists, union busters, power-worshipping Republican politicians, etc:

The goal has always been, Charles says, “true democracy,” where people “can run their own lives and choose what they want to buy, choose how to spend their money.” (“Now in our democracy you elect somebody every two to four years and they tell you how to run your life,” he says.)

Let's extrapolate a little: "True democracy" is about living how you want to live and the right to buy whatever you want to? It's worth ruminating over, since this guy Charles has a monster pile of speech-money to make his points with. The right to buy whatever you want is not something you have to fight for... the merchants and masters of commerce will always fight on everyone's behalf to make sure we have that right. It's a sorry-ass definition of democracy, it should be as embarrassing as wetting your pants on the school yard to say something like that in a nationally-distributed magazine...but of course that's not where we are at in the year 2013. Instead it's something you can say with pride at this moment in time, and there's nothing like a counterveiling force to shame a smug industrialist like Charles Koch away from saying things like this.

Where on earth did Charles Koch get the idea? He and his brother David attended something called Freedom Schools in the '60s, which did pioneering work in brainwashing young future inheritors like the Koch bros that God lived in the marketplace, that participation in the capitalist enterprise was moral activity and that the  American ideal of freedom existed within the boundaries of commercial activity. They were taught to believe in what I call a business religion. Their dad Fred came out of a capitalist-Calvinist tradition that swims in these waters. It's a vein of thinking that has been around for some time...Koch would smile on our country's founders who equated liberty with property. But it's toxic stuff in the long run. It sets up a situation where the the attainment of freedom amounts to the acquistion of wealth; the wealthiest person in the society becomes free-est person of all. The attainment of liberty is a moral enterprise...so if you get rich -- aka "free" -- you're righteous. It's not pleasant.

 A hideous, democracy crushing ideology-tautology that we are living in. None of this arena concerns the enterprise of democracy, which includes the right of everyone to be involved in decision-making, planning, and fashioning the morals that the society should live by. Practically nothing to do with commerce. 


Just tuning into this amazing story -- the whole thing is caught on camera. 

A Bulgarian politician today survived an extraordinary assassination attempt when a man stormed the stage and held a gun to his head as he was giving a speech. Fortunately for Ahmed Dogan, leader of the Movement for Rights and Freedoms, the weapon misfired giving him time to react and hit the would-be assassin's hand out of the way. Before he could attempt a second shot the unidentified suspect was tackled to the ground by security guards and delegates attending the conference in Sofia. Television footage showed the man jumping out of the audience and interrupting a speech by 58-year-old Dogan, who has led the party for almost a quarter of a century.  

In a split second, he raises the gun to Mr Dogan's head but it appeared to misfire. The politician then knocked the gun away and fell to the floor as he attempted to flee. Security guards and delegates rushed onto the stage where they wrestled the attacker to the ground.

What jumps out is how quickly it all happens. Dogan has about 1 second to realize he's got a gun pointed at his head.

The possible motives of the attack are unclear currently, but one possibility is some form of racism or xenophobia -- according to Wikipedia, Dogan's party represents the Muslim minority in Bulgaria.