Gravity's Rainbow

botany, shoes, books, and justice

October 20, 2018
by sarcozona
1 Comment

The urban-rural divide is the fundamental political divide

Many longstanding rulers and parties still command massive support in rural areas where government control is greater, though more than half the population of Africa is predicated to live in towns and cities within 30 years.

Youth alone is not enough to effect radical change, said Cheeseman. “The really important element is urbanisation. The biggest divide is between urban and rural, not young and old. When the majority of national votes are urban … that will massively transform opposition parties and politics.” Source: Young Africa: new wave of politicians challenges old guard | World news | The Guardian

If these African countries have democracies like ours in North America, that hope may be misplaced. Rural voters often hold a disproportionately large share of the power.

Many political redistrictings are all about rural (and suburban) power grabs, taking advantage of a fundamental bias in our democracies against high density populations. We don’t have one person-one vote in most places – a vote in Nunavut counts 5.6x more than a vote in the Niagara Falls riding of Ontario.

I grew up in a rural area and people there had this persistent sense of persecution from people in the cities. It’s not really true. People in rural areas have much more power than those in urban areas – it doesn’t always feel like that because there are so many people in urban areas!

That rural people feel persecuted by the cityfolk, especially in much of America, is particularly grating as the growing political homogeneity in rural areas is due in part to their bigotry driving out as many of the people who don’t believe like them as can get together enough resources to get the hell out. It doesn’t engender my sympathy either when so much of the (very real) economic hurt they’re facing is due to their consistently terrible political choices.

But it’s not like a person in a rural area can just pick up and leave if they don’t like it. And many people are in suburban areas because they effectively got booted out of the city.

Cities fuck over people in rural and suburban areas – and themselves – by letting land values in cities accrue to private individuals instead of the public interest.

Rural areas are under-resourced. There aren’t enough good schools or access to medical care or transportation. But on a per-person basis, people in rural and suburban areas still receive much more financial support from the government because providing infrastructure at low density is really, really expensive and inefficient. The government saves money when people move to cities. When you consider the extraordinarily high carbon footprint of people in rural areas, it makes even more sense to get them to the city.

But from the perspective of an individual person, living in a rural or suburban area often makes more financial sense – it’s cheaper! What most people don’t realize is that is because it’s more heavily subsidized, not just through infrastructure provision, but also through policies around land ownership, taxation, and housing policies that drive up the cost of rent and buying a place to live in a city.

The federal and provincial/state governments should be incentivizing people to live in cities. We should crush housing prices in cities and make sure the land value returns to the public. Living in a city is cheaper for the government and it should be too for the people who live there. Living in rural and suburban environments should better reflect the costs they exact on society – higher infrastructure expenses, dealing with natural hazards like wildfire, more expensive (per-capita) disaster recovery, higher contribution to climate change, etc.

We should make cities more pleasant places to live. Right now, most cities are bright and loud and smelly and designed more for cars than humans. We can fix that. Some fixes are hard, but many are easy. We should be making places for more people in our cities and building up small towns with good housing, people-oriented streets, and solid infrastructure. This would make people living in cities an even better deal for the government thru reduced healthcare and climate costs.

I don’t think that everyone should live in a city. Some people just can’t bear it and we do still need people in rural areas for agriculture and resource extraction. But those industries have been heavily mechanized and most people who live in rural areas have absolutely nothing to do with them. The decline of rural areas won’t stop unless something dramatic like de-mechanizing agriculture happens.

Let’s make cities better and more affordable places to live so that everyone who wants to be here can. It’ll be good for us all.

October 17, 2018
by sarcozona

Immigrants’ rights are workers’ rights.

Justice for Port Drivers is an organization fighting for the labor rights of port drivers. I got an email from them today about solidarity with immigrants fighting the recent cancellation of the Temporary Protected Status Program.

From our shores to every store, port drivers are the first or last leg of the journey for what becomes the clothes on our backs, the food on our table, the shoes on our feet, plus the few remaining products we ship overseas. Source: Welcome – Justice For Port Drivers

A few weeks ago I wrote that we don’t have an immigration problem, we have a labor problem. I was writing at the time about farm workers, but it’s similar in many parts of the economy. The situation of the port drivers really *ahem* drives this home.

By misclassifying drivers as “independent contractors,” trucking companies have devised a scheme to increase profits by:

  • Illegally pushing the cost of doing business – fuel, insurance, maintenance, parking, lease payments, etc. – onto the backs of drivers;

  • Stealing workers’ pay by not paying us for all the hours we work; and,

  • Defrauding the government of taxes that help pay for our schools, roads, police, and firefighters.

Trucking used to be a decent job. Now it’s terrible exploitation that can leave people financially worse off than if they weren’t working at all. The people doing jobs like these are those who are the most vulnerable, desperate and are least likely to have the clout and resources to fight back.

Immigrants don’t steal these jobs – we let companies make jobs not worth working. If these jobs were properly compensated and regulated, then anyone would work them.

When we marginalize a group – immigrants, black people, women, poor people, etc. – we make our own labor less valuable. The more people we marginalize, the more companies can get away with paying them less and destroying working conditions and the more people end up marginalized. It’s a terrible feedback cycle.

If we have solidarity and force all companies to pay proper wages and ensure safe working conditions then that cycle gets broken.

Immigration does increase competition for some jobs and drive down wages, but largely because we let companies treat us like commodities.

I wrote about how my understanding of disability has shifted from internal to external and how that’s affected my ability to get support.

A little smarts and hard work and luck can’t make my chronically ill body “productive.” Even if they did, it would only make it alright for me – and that’s not good or fair. Telling those stories for so long made dealing with the reality of living-with-chronic-illness-under-capitalism/being disabled and past traumas really difficult. As soon as I decided the problem wasn’t me, but the response of people and systems to me, I stopped getting funding. As Dr. Sara Ahmed says, “when you expose a problem, you po

Source: Why I can’t write a good personal essay | Tenure, She Wrote

October 9, 2018
by sarcozona

Scholarship is always political

“Sokal Squared” is bad science. Its blatant manipulation of its own “data,” the lack of meaningful controls, and the disconnect between its methods and what it claims to prove are a remarkably poor model for nonpoliticized scholarship, even if it were true (as it clearly is not) that the hoaxers were any less driven by ideology than their targets. As historians and philosophers of science have long recognized, claims that good science is apolitical are routinely deployed in the service of very political end [Source: Orthodoxxed! | Online Only | n+1]

There are real problems with academia, with peer review and scientific publishing, with reproducibility in science. This hoax (which is not a hoax, but behavior ranging from misconduct to outright fraud) doesn’t get us any closer to fixing real problems and instead tries to use a the faux objectivity of scientific respectability to discredit political movements and ideas they disagree with.

I mean, look at who likes it – people like Jordan Peterson and Peter Pinker –

“It is hard to imagine a form of scholarship less rigorous, more motivated by nonscientific concerns, and more warped by political hobbyhorses than what these men practice.”

October 8, 2018
by sarcozona

If SV really believes AI is an existential threat…

Paradoxically, all the scenarios, apocalyptic or preventive, come from researchers and leaders of industry involved in the development of the very technology they are mobilising against.

Source: Silicon Valley funds our helpless future, by Charles Perragin & Guillaume Renouard (Le Monde diplomatique – English edition, August 2018)

If Silicon Valley actually believes AI is an existential risk, they should stop developing it. If we believe they believe it, we should shut them down for continuing to develop something they think will destroy us all.

October 7, 2018
by sarcozona
1 Comment

We don’t have an immigration problem, we have a labor problem

Re: Devin Nunes’s Family Farm Moved to Iowa, Employs Undocumented Workers

The near total use of undocumented labourers is not news to anyone who’s ever lived in farm country.

All the bullshit about illegal immigration is really just about labor exploitation.

If a dairy farm would go out of business if it paid workers a real wage and stuck to real labor protections, then that dairy farm should fucking go out of business.

If we need those dairy farms for food security or want them for cultural reasons, then we ethically and transparently subsidize them.