A Pattern Language — Rob Hopkins Interviews Christopher Alexander



From ROB HOPKINS
Transition Culture

About 3 weeks ago, I travelled to a snow-covered West Sussex to meet one of my heroes.  Christopher Alexander, architect, thinker, designer, author of the seminal ‘A Pattern Language’ and of the more recent extraordinary ‘The Nature of Order’ series of books, has long been someone whose work I have admired greatly.  It is sometimes said that it is generally best not to meet your heroes as they usually disappoint, but that wasn’t the case here.  I met Chris and his wife Maggie in their beautiful old home (I’m starting to sound like a writer for Hello! magazine), and after lunch and a general chat about the Transition approach (about which Chris knew very little in advance of our conversation), we did the following interview.  I am deeply grateful to them both for a fascinating and illuminating afternoon.

The first question is, how did A Pattern Language come about?  Where did the idea come from?

Oh that I can tell you very simply.  In 1961 I went to India – lived in a village.  I was a fellow at Harvard and I just wanted to go to India, I always wanted to go there.  I had Indian friends from all over the shop but I’d never been there.  So the Society Fellows were kind enough to send me out there.  I was living in this village – just mud huts, there was only one brick building which was vaguely temple-ish….at a scale and finish of a porch in a cow barn.  I actually did something quite similar to what I was describing to you, in one of my books – it contains that analysis – and they’re all about issues pertaining to a simple Indian village.  I made a set of diagrams – it was very early on in my career, it was one of the first projects I ever did.

A world made by hand needn’t wait


From ALAN WARTES
New Leaf Gardens, Denver
Via Energy Bulletin

The “growing season” is over at New Leaf Gardens. Considering our location on the eastern flank of the Rocky Mountains, at an elevation of nearly 6,000 feet, it is remarkable that temperatures have only just begun to occasionally dip below freezing. Most of the time we still enjoy lows in the 40s. But the few frosty nights we’ve had were enough to hang a closed sign on the last of the warm-loving plants. Fortunately we saw it coming and last week harvested the remaining zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, green tomatoes, bell peppers, and jalapeños. The tough guys—broccoli, cabbage, carrots, spinach, and arugula—just shrugged off the cold. Fuhgeddaboutit.

Shorter days and less to do in autumn means more time for reading, and I just finished The Witch of Hebron, the wonderful sequel to James Howard Kunstler’s novel, World Made by Hand. The story is set in Union Grove, once a rural bedroom community in upstate New York that had fallen prey, like everywhere else, to the faux culture of “happy motoring” suburbanization: strip malls, tract housing, big box retail, lots and lots of cars, and the roads they drive on. But when Kunstler begins his tale–“Sometime in the not-distant future…”—times have changed, a lot.

And then again, not so much.

Not long from now, the inevitable breakdown of globalized civilization has occurred. Kunstler wisely wastes no time explaining exactly how. Who cares? Plausible triggers abound. Pick one and pull it—and the result is the same: The web of everyday life goes from stretching half way around the world, connecting us to Saudi oil fields and Chinese sweat shops, to having strands no longer than a few miles from home. The word “local” takes on new meaning,

Urban Right To Farm Laws


From SHARON ASTYK
Causaubon’s Book

This is a lightly revised version of a previous essay of mine from ’09, but I wanted to run it again because I have more to say about this subject after the holidays, in part because this is starting to become an emerging reality, with several muncipalities trying create model urban-right-to-farm laws, and a legal conference last year taking up the subject. In parallel, in Britain, there’s an emerging movement to create “Transition-Friendly” legislation that would open up possibilities for a wide range of Transition activities without requiring legal challenges for each, and barring nuisance law suits. There is an emerging recognition that one of the things we need is to remove barriers to small scale subsistence activities in urban and suburban areas. So I’m re-running this piece, in part as background, for another essay refining this idea in early January.

One of the things I’ve been saying for a long time is that we’re going to need to address zoning questions early in the process of adaptation. Our world has so many people, and the global north tends to hold uncritical assumptions that subsistance activities are dangerous, unattractive nuisances that should be removed as much as possible from places where people live. At the extremes are barriers to things like clotheslines or even food plants in front yards, things that require us to consume more resources and pollute more.

Over the last few decades, rural areas, in response to suburbanization and an influx of new residents who enjoyed rural vistas but weren’t comfortable with the realities of rural life like manure, slow hay wagons and other material realities, have found themselves fighting these battles.

What began to emerge in the 1970s were right-to-farm laws, which protected existing farms from common-law nuisance suits

Are we ruled by the rich?


From FRANCIS FUKUYAMA
The American Interest
Thanks to Ron Epstein

The answer to the question “Is America a plutocracy?” might seem either trivial or obvious depending on how one defines the term. Plutocracy, says the dictionary, simply means “rule by the rich.” If the query is taken literally to mean that the non-rich—the vast majority of American citizens—have no influence in American democracy, or that the country is self-consciously ruled by some hidden collusive elite, the answer is obviously “no.” On the other hand, if the question is taken to mean, “Do the wealthy have disproportionate political influence in the United States?” then the answer is obviously “yes”, and that answer would qualify as one of the most unsurprising imaginable. Wealthy people have had disproportionate influence in most polities at most times in history.

Of course, one can argue endlessly over who qualifies as being rich, whether the rich constitute a social class capable of collective action, how open or closed that class is, what constitutes real political power in today’s America, and so on. But if the question remains as simple as those articulated above, the basic answer will not change or be of much interest.

This is not, however, what this issue of The American Interest means by plutocracy. We mean not just rule by the rich, but rule by and for the rich. We mean, in other words, a state of affairs in which the rich influence government in such a way as to protect and expand their own wealth and influence, often at the expense of others. As the introductory essay to this issue shows, this influence may be exercised in four basic ways: lobbying to shift regulatory costs and other burdens away from corporations and onto the public at large; lobbying to affect the tax code so that the wealthy pay less;…

Full article here
~~

Gene Logsdon: It Does My Heart Good


From GENE LOGSDON

[This one's for Doug Mosel... -DS]

This is not a Christmas story exactly, but it makes a wonderful way to pass along glad tidings of the year. Brock McLeod and Heather Walker operate Makaria Farm in Duncan, British Columbia (www.makariafarm.com) and what they have been doing the past two years is just eye-poppingly, unbelievably, overwhelmingly, audaciously amazing.  They decided to take small scale grain raising to the very high level of accomplishment— beyond the wildest dreams I had when I wrote my book by that name.

They recently sent me a sort of homemade scrapbook telling the story of their adventures with small scale grain, complete with pictures. Once they realized that it was not that difficult to make their own bread from scratch— the ultimate scratch of growing the grain and grinding the flour, their imagination and vitality went into overdrive. They already ran a CSA and raised fruit along with seasonal vegetables, so adding grain to their farming menu was just another step up the ladder. What makes their grain adventure so endearing is that they involved the community of people around their farm. They started “Island Grains” and invited others to learn about small scale grain-raising with them. Fifty signed up with another twenty on the wait list. They tried to get me to come out for the first workshop but since I no longer can do much long distance travel,

Studying gratitude


Click on Post Title to Enlarge

From RON EPSTEIN
Ukiah

Robert Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Mike McCullough of the University of Miami examined the impact of keeping a gratitude journal. All participants in their study were asked to write a few sentences each week, focusing on five things. One group wrote about things they were grateful for that had occurred during the week. A second group wrote about daily hassles or things that had displeased them, and the third wrote about events that had affected them (with no emphasis on them being positive or negative). After 10 weeks, those who wrote about gratitude were more optimistic and felt better about their lives. Surprisingly, they also exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on hassles.

Gratitude is a way to step off the hedonic treadmill, appreciating what you have instead of always reaching for something new in the hopes it will make you happier, or thinking you can’t feel satisfied until your every physical and material need is met. Gratitude helps you refocus on what you have instead of what you lack.

Try keeping a gratitude journal and make it a habit to write down or share with a loved one the gifts you’ve received each day.
~~

Rebooting the American Dream — Chapter Six: Make Members of Congress Wear NASCAR Patches



From THOM HARTMANN
Truthout
Article with footnotes here

The liberty of a democracy is not safe if the people tolerate the growth of private power to a point where it comes stronger than their democratic state itself. That, in its essence, is fascism — ownership of government by an individual, by a group.
— Franklin D. Roosevelt

I started my first business at the age of 17 with $25. I paid that amount to rent a shelf in a head shop (which sold mostly pipes, bongs, and cigarette papers) across the street from Michigan State University in East Lansing. The shelf had a sign: “The Electronics Joint—leave your stereo or TV here for repair, and we’ll return it fixed within a week. Free estimate of charges before work is done.” The guy who ran the head shop managed the shelf for 10 percent of our revenues plus the $25-per-month shelf rental; within two years the venture had grown to include five employees, and we moved into our own storefront down the street.

As the business grew, however, I didn’t manage it wisely and ended up about $3,000 in debt, which was a lot of money in 1968 for a part-time student and part-time DJ. Ultimately, I had to shut the company down and go to work full-time as a radio DJ.

That didn’t turn out so well either. I got fired when I played two black female artists back-to-back, a violation of station policy at the time, and then refused to promise to never do it again. With my unemployment check, I bought some herbs at a local General Nutrition Center store and started an herbal tea company—Woodley Herber—that grew over the next six years to having 19 employees. One of our products that contained ginseng (which was then hot as an aphrodisiac) was picked up by Larry Flynt to market through his brand-new magazine,

Don Sanderson: Honey from a Weed



From DON SANDERSON
Hopland

They [the Tarahumara] know that every step forward, every convenience acquired through the mastery of a purely physical civilization, also implies a loss, a regression. – Antonin Artaud, “The Peyote Dance”

Patience Gray, the author of “Honey from a Weed: Fasting and Feasting in Tuscany, Catalonia, the Cyclades, and Apulia”, 1986, writes that Artaud’s saying had graced her workshop for many years. For twenty years, she followed her sculptor companion searching for the next perfect block of marble in wilder regions of the Mediterranean that were yet hardly touched by modern conveniences. The foods and lifestyles about which she reminisces were very conservative, according to the old meaning of that term, hardly changed over hundreds of years but now nearing their last gasp. These people were closely tied to the land, the olive groves, the vineyards, the vegetable gardens, and fruit orchards chopped out of rocky soils yet thriving. Goats, sheep, and pigs were commonly raised and cheese produced. We would think of these peoples as very poor, yet they were nearly self-sufficient and life was often a communal celebration.

Gray characterized foods in each of these areas as being of wondrous complexity that had been developed over generations stretching beyond memory. The recipes she records and meals she describes are quite wonderful. Every aspect was made from scratch with the simplest equipment, especially with no electricity. A typical stove was a grill raised across a wood fire that had originated from gathered brush or chopped branches. Often there was a hook above the fire on which a covered pot could be hung. A domed earthen oven was also usually available for baking bread and various dishes. Water was typically hand carried from a not necessarily nearby cistern.

The internet is being captured by organized trolls. It’s time we fought back.


From GEORGE MONBIOT
Thanks to Mendo Listserv

[This is exactly what some of us experienced this past campaign season when our local cyber-commons was assaulted by wingnut trolls supporting the Wendy Roberts campaign. And because she and her Republican campaign organizers from outside the county refused to disinherit these cowardly attacks, it seemed obvious that these stooges were coordinated. Happily, they were smoked out, identified, and rejected by an alert community. Now, having failed miserably, these democracy-haters are attempting to shut down the listserv itself. -DS]

They are the online equivalent of enclosure riots: the rick-burning, fence-toppling protests by English peasants losing their rights to the land. When MasterCard, Visa, Paypal and Amazon tried to shut WikiLeaks out of the cyber-commons, an army of hackers responded by trying to smash their way into these great estates and pull down their fences.

In the Wikileaks punch-up the commoners appear to have the upper hand. But it’s just one battle. There’s a wider cyberwar being fought, of which you hear much less. And in most cases the landlords, with the help of a mercenary army, are winning.

I’m not talking here about threats to net neutrality and the danger of a two-tier internet developing, though these are real. I’m talking about the daily attempts to control and influence content in the interests of the state and corporations: attempts in which money talks.

Bruce Patterson: The Darkest Night


From BRUCE “PAT” PATTERSON
4Mules Blog
Anderson Valley

“When steam first began to puff. . .the wild child humanity was caught and put in a harness. What we call business habits were invented to make the life of man harmonious with the steam engine, and his movements rival the train in punctuality. The factory system was invented and it was an instantaneous success. Men were clothed in cheapness and uniformity. Their minds grew numerously alike, cheap and uniform also.”
–G.W. Russell (1867-1935)

Maybe 30 years ago, back when my wife and I were living “off the grid” (back then we called it living without electricity and indoor plumbing) up near Mountain House, a friend told me of a tribe of people—I think they were Patagonian highlanders—who navigated by the night sky but without using the stars. Instead of focusing on the stars, galaxies and constellations, war chariots, Greek gods and wild animals, they used their peripheral vision to see the web work of black pathways connecting them. Myself having always been a stargazer—under High Sierra skies, Mojave skies, Montana skies—I was skeptical because I’d never noticed such a thing.

Yet my friend was well schooled in life’s mysteries and so I decided to put it to the test. It was a hot August night, clouds were about as scarce as January tourists, and after the last of the sunset’s afterglow had gone out to sea, and before the moon had risen, and in order to get away from the glare of our cabin’s kerosene lamps, my wife and I followed a sheep trail to a nearby a point of land.

The wet blanket of hot air was stone still and, while we were getting settled on our sitting spot, we heard the faint echoing chugging of a locomotive pulling a train up the Russian River Canyon.

Michael Laybourn: Unsmart Meters and Mismanaged Utilities


From MICHAEL LAYBOURN
Hopland

Tip of the fedora to Greg Krause in Philo, who has an article about this same issue in the 12/15 AVA. I recently contacted a group called TURN (The Utility Reform Network) who keeps a close watch on utility energy companies. I first became aware of the group when PG&E tried to stuff that constitutional amendment down California’s throat so they could be a complete monopoly and not be bothered with other competition. TURN worked hard with almost no money to fight the proposition. And won.

Now, in a rush to take advantage of U.S. stimulus money, utilities across the country are quickly installing thousands of smart meters to homes each day. Projects in the U.S. are being accelerated because of the $3.4 billion in the stimulus funds set aside for ‘smart-grid’ technologies. PG&E is now sticking smart meters to Mendocino County and anywhere the company operates in California. Many California cities and counties, including San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Marin counties, have decided to reject “Smart” Meters. Cities declining include Sebastopol, Berkeley, Cotati, Fairfax, Santa Cruz, Piedmont, Scotts Valley, Capitola, Watsonville, Sausalito, San Anselmo and others.

What’s so bad about these ‘smart’ meters?
The main issues are:

1. Security of data and private information. Billions [of dollars] are on the table, so they are moving forward with metering projects and they’re spending money as fast as they can,” said Jonathan Pollet, founder of Red Tiger Security which tests security features in SCADA systems. “The security isn’t where it should be, but the vendors aren’t going to turn down orders.” So there is little security built

Aurora Borealis Timelapse



Full screen video: Aurora Borealis timelapse HD – Tromsø 2010 from Tor Even Mathisen on Vimeo.
~~

Will Parrish: Sonoma County, Banana Republic of Wine-Grapes



From WILL PARRISH
Laytonville

In 1993, American wine industry goliath E&J Gallo (annual revenue: $2 billion) founded its first subsidiary dedicated solely to producing high-end, “premium” vintages: Gallo of Sonoma. The move reflected a dramatic shift for the Gallo empire, which accounts for one in four bottles sold in the US wine market.

For several decades, Gallo’s forte was cheap, fortified jug wines such as Thunderbird and Night Train — each at least 18 percent alcohol by volume. The company initially cornered this dubious market in the ’50s and ’60s, via clever ad campaigns complemented by aggressive promotions in so-called inner-city “colored bars” (a process described by journalist Ellen Hawkes in her book Blood and Wine) and off-reservation American Indian communities. The dislocation, poverty, and alienation endemic to many of these areas provided fertile grounds for alcoholism, which the Gallo patriarchs Ernest and Julio shamelessly bred and profited from.

By the early-’90s, the American wine market was moving increasingly upscale. With its wide variety of favorable microclimates and soils, as well as relatively low land prices vis-a-vis Napa County to the east, Sonoma County emerged as the epicenter of the “premium grape rush,” a finance-driven speculative bubble that has accompanied the shift in consumer taste. In keeping with the prevailing market trend toward high-end varietal wines — that is, those made from a single named grape variety — Gallo moved its center of gravity out of the urban ghettos once and for all, and into the sleepy north county town of Healdsburg, a 17 mile drive up Route 101 from Santa Rosa.

Before long, Gallo of Sonoma had amassed a collection of sprawling

Todd Walton: Slow Going


From TODD WALTON
Under The Table Books
Mendocino

“For fast-acting relief, try slowing down.” Lily Tomlin

Five years ago, a few weeks before I made my move from Berkeley to Mendocino, I came within a few inches of being killed by a young man who was driving his pickup truck very fast while simultaneously using his mobile phone. I had just stepped into the crosswalk at the intersection of San Pablo Avenue and Gilman Avenue, having been given the go ahead to cross by the illuminated symbol of a human being taking a walk. The young man who was driving his pickup very fast apparently did not see the red light or me or possibly anything as he sped through the intersection with his phone pressed to his ear. I don’t know if he was talking to someone or listening to someone else talking, or perhaps he was listening to music; I am only certain he was pressing his phone to his ear as his two-ton missile shot by within inches of my puny little flesh and blood body. And whether there is such a thing as fate or whether life is a muddle of meaningless happenstance, had I been one step further along at that moment, I would have been smashed to smithereens.

So today I’m driving our old truck into our soggy hamlet to get the mail and groceries, a cold rain falling, and because I am the unelected president of Mendocino Drivers Not In A Hurry To Get Anywhere, I’ve only gotten a few hundred yards down the Comptche-Ukiah straightaway before my rearview mirror is filled with the sight of a pickup closing fast upon me. As is my custom in these situations, I move to the outer edge of the road and slow to a crawl, timing my move so that whoever is driving that oncoming pickup will have an easy time passing me—the road ahead empty, the broken yellow line entirely on our side. But this particular pickup (going at least seventy miles per hour) zooms to within a few feet of my bumper

Gene Logsdon: Fertilizer prices putting manure in the limelight



From GRIST

People talk about Peak Oil, but we’re also at Peak Fertilizer.

I never thought I’d see the day when shit — the bodily kind — would make headlines the way it is right now.

When my book about managing manure, Holy Shit, came out recently, erstwhile friends grinned and remarked, “You’ve been shooting the bull all your life so, sure, why not write a book about it?”

But this time what I’m writing is definitely not B.S. The current fertilizer crisis is real. Chemical fertilizer prices rise and fall with every change of pulse in supply and demand, but they are definitely on a long-term rise — not only because production and transportation costs are increasing, but because of anticipated shorter supplies in the future. People talk about Peak Oil, but we’re also at Peak Fertilizer. Without plenty of some kind of fertilizer, there will not be enough food to go around. The headline hype is not just overreaction from the press: recently farming news sources such as DTN were reporting all over their networks about how international traders in phosphorous and potash are elbowing for bigger chunks of the remaining fertilizer pie.

I would like to puff up and brag about how smart I must be to see this coming, but actually for anyone who has milked cows for a living like I have, it’s a no-brainer. Although I spent an awful lot of time in classrooms studying weird subjects like theology and anthropology, my real education began as a hired man for a dairy farmer in Minnesota, who was very astute and rather wealthy, too. He made money even though the bright boys at the university would say he was backward. He still used horses for much of his farm power, and he didn’t use any “bought” fertilizer. As a farm boy from Ohio who thought he knew a thing or two about farming, I was surprised to see how well his corn grew anyway.

Who Were You?


From PEAK OIL BLUES BLOG

A year or so ago, I read a book about the collapse of civilizations, and how some just vanished without a trace.  It puzzled me how that could happen among civilizations that were very advanced for their time.  As the peak oil discourse became more widespread, I began to see how that could happen even to us as a society today.  Then I realized it is happening to us individually even today, and we aren’t even aware of it.

I have in one closet or other old photo albums of my grandparents, parents or our own, some with pictures dating back to the late 1800s, of various relatives that have long since departed this life, as well as pictures of my youth and my wife, son, and grandchildren.  Then 10 years ago, technology started changing the way we captured and stored these photos, not as images on paper in albums, but as digital images on hard drives or cds.

One of the aspects of the decline of the oil age that I have not seen addressed is that over the last 5 years or so, we have seen a great move away from hard copy anything; pictures, books, magazines, and even newspapers.  As the decline begins to happen, we will see a sharp decline in imports of non-essential goods, including PCs, IPads, e-readers, and other useful devices.  Even if such a decline wasn’t in the cards, the changing technology may render any stored information about us useless.  What if all your family photos were on 5 ¼ floppy disks right now?  For all practical purposes they would be lost.  Yet 15 years ago, that was a stable and common medium for data storage.  If we begin to see a decrease in availability of equipment to read and display our stored data, it will be like we are slowly vanishing.

We have taken for granted that the information age will survive long into the decline of the oil age.  I don’t think that will be the case.  The economy will decline with the energy shrinkage.  The internet doesn’t just exist because it is useful, it exists because it makes money… lots of it.  As the economies around the world shrink,

Mendo Island Transition: Local Jobs and Infrastructure


From ROB HOPKINS
Transition Culture

The Challenge

The infrastructure required for a more localised and resilient future, the energy systems, the mills, the food systems and the abbatoirs, has been largely ripped out over the past 50 years as oil made it cheaper to work on an ever-increasingly large scale, and their reinstallation will not arise by accident. They will need to be economically viable, supported by their local communities, owned and operated by people with the appropriate skills, and linked together.

Core Text

“ The pessimist sees difficulty in every opportunity. The optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty”.

Winston Churchill.

The picture above shows the last working mill to close in Totnes. It was situated in the centre of the town, was powered by the river than runs past it, and deliveries were made to and from it using a horse drawn wagon. How’s that for a low-carbon local food enterprise? Now it is the town’s Tourist Information Office, and a very good one at that., but clearly it is much easier to turn a flour mill into a Tourist Information Office than it is to turn a Tourist Information Office into a mill again.

Much of the infrastructure that would have traditionally supported a more local food economy, and have generated much of the employment in our communities has since been dismantled, converted into flats, converted to other uses. Quite clearly, the infrastructure most settlements have today is completely unequipped for functioning in an energy-scarce context. We aren’t able to grow much of our own food, process the milk from our local fields, turn our local timber into useful things, process milk into cheese,

An Open Appeal to Dan Hamburg and our Supervisors: How Peak Oil Can Save Our County


From LINDSAY CURREN
Transition Voice

[For our new county supervisor, Dan Hamburg, and our supervisors: This essay as written is an appeal to Obama. But since all politics is local, as you read it, please substitute yourselves for Obama, and the ideas herein as the orientation we need here in Mendocino County now: to bravely face our local future. Dan campaigned on this issue. His opponent promoted job creation in the predictable areas rather than facing a very different future. As we move into the new year, and Dan takes on his newly elected duties, what is needed most from our leadership is frank talk and innovative solutions. We're counting on you, Dan, and our supervisors already in place, to help move us into our local future. Yes, balancing the budget is crucial, but we need to begin pulling out of this bogged-down morass and make meaningful plans. Please! -DS]

E. J. Dionne Jr.’s recent column in the Washington Post, “Can Obama Find His Morning in America?” notes an increasingly widespread domestic view that America is in decline. Dionne argues that such an infectious tumult could either cripple Obama or, alternatively, create an opportunity to right his presidency and recapture the confidence of the American people.

What Obama needs, says Dionne, is a morning in America moment. But what he lacks, Dionne believes, is a compelling narrative around which to rally the people and tap into their latent positive energy about American possibility.

I agree wholeheartedly.

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