Coast of Dreams

Coast of Dreams, a survey of California history since 1990, is full of nuggets that explain the origins of Californian artifacts.
Where did the massive demonstrations in LA against the immigration bill come from? The tactics, from flagwaving, to the student walkouts, to the massive gatherings and the slogans, are repeats of the tactics used to protest proposition 187 in 1994.
Where did Trader Joe’s come from? The founder’s origininal target market was Pasadena PhD students who had sophisticated tastes in food and poverty budgets.
Why does Silicon Valley have a string of surprisingly lively main streets in its string of suburban towns? It’s actually not uncommon in California, where new urbanist ideas have supported walkable town centers all over the state. (this trend has recently been dubbed The New Suburbanism
What happened after the LA riots? High profile redevelopment efforts by Peter Ueberroth and representatives of the oligarchy flopped. Economic revitalization came from an unexpected direction; toy and textile businesses, founded by immigrants who colonized the underutilized downtown buildings.
Why are there green hills in Marin? Because land conservancies have been buying up open space when there would otherwise be expensive housing.
It a good book?
If you’ve been following California news closely for the last 15 years, Coast of Dreams might come across as a non-book. It is a collection of stories that one might assemble from reading the paper and watching how the stories develop over the years.
The book has a loose theme; the economic hard times prompted by the end of the cold war, and subsequent revival led by immigrant business, entertainment and tech. But the freeway-speed survey has nothing near the the depth of, say, Common Ground, the brilliant social history of the then-recent busing crisis by J. Anthony Lukas.
Many topics require the reader to turn to other sources for depth and analysis. Starr writes about the disasters of fire and landslides that affect neighborhoods in the foothills of the San Gabriel mountains near Los Angeles; John McPhee explains how patterns of fire suppression and building make the pattern inevitable, in a superb section of The Control of Nature.
The Coast of Dreams documents the brutal costs of the drug war in central Los Angeles and the rural central valley; but doesn’t pause to consider any alternatives to the policies that create the drug war. Start talks about increasing income stratification, with wealthy entertertainment and tech professionals served by service workers; and agribusiness executives making profits from the labor of migrant farmers; but nothing about cause says little about the macroeconomic and policy causes of the widening gap and decreasing mobility between powerty and wealth.
For a newcomer to California, though, Coast of Dreams is a fine drive through the landscape of recent California history, covering territory from gangs to beach volleyball. The best part of the tour is the author’s meanders through California visual art and literature, with thumbnail portraits of various artists, architects, landscape designers, novelists and poets. There’s a little gem of a section that wonders why LA’s novelists are so noir, while its poets and architects are cheerful. Sometimes the cultural history is overinterpreted; for example, the growth of Mexican-American art festivals is seen as a sign of racial detente in Los Angeles; surely a good thing; but not the same as reducing violence between black, latino, and korean city residents.
It would be really fun if the book were hypertext, with links to the people, places and pictures, and maybe a tour guide.

System green

The car-dependent suburbs were created by an interlocking set of policies:

  • Cheap federal mortgage programs

  • Federal tax programs subsidizing suburban home ownership.
  • Funding the Interstate Highway System at the expense of public transportation
  • Zoning policies that stratify business, single-family, and multi-family housing

That’s less glib than this week’s political grandstanding, lifting gas taxes (D, R), taxing oil companies (D) or relaxing environmental regulations (R). The Oil Drum has a strong critique of the demagoguery.
The interesting thing about the policies that created the gas-dependent suburbs is the relationship between national government, local government and private action.
National government made a few critical investments and commitments
* the interstate highway system
* tax-deduction and subsidy programs for mortgages
Local governments made zoning and transit mix decisions.
Private businesses and citizens decided where to live, where to site their busiensses, which cars and trucks to buy, how to get to work. Their decisions were strongly shaped by the infrastructure.
The oil drum recommends:
” large-scale research, development, and implementation programs to improve the scalability of alternative sources of energy
* improving mass transit and carpooling programs
* providing incentives to buy smaller and more fuel efficient vehicles
* promoting a campaign to increase awareness about conservation.
Inspired by the original programs that created the suburbs, other logical steps include:
* government backing for financial products that make conservation technology cost-effective (these things apparently exist but are hard to use)
* government investment and policy changes facilitating distributed energy generation
* repairing local zoning for mixed use
Pull for these kinds of policies would come from businesses that make money from green energy and finance, citizens demanding solutions. Somebody somewhere is doing this stuff.
The suburb-creation policy list is taken out of context from this comment about about cities and race on Talking Points Memo.

In which the Oil Drum eviscerates the Economist

One of the bloggers at The Oil Drum takes out his trusty napkin and does a number on the latest sanguine article in The Economist about oil supply. It’s true that new technologies help wring more oil from a reserve. But the more efficient technologies also result in faster depletion rates once a reserve starts declining.
It is also true that as oil gets more expensive, then lower quality and harder-to-reach reserves become economical to produce. But it takes more time to set up that production, making it hard for supply to keep up with demand.
Meanwhile, the LA Times has a column praising the California energy strategy, including:
* a mandate to generate 20% of electricity from renewable sources by 2020
* legislation to reduce auto emissions
* a “cap and trade” policy for greenhouse gas emissions (Schwartzenagger just backed off from the “cap” side.
Perhaps California can take the lead. I’d love to find out what citizens’ groups cover the legislation and promote good green policy. A search on AB32 — Assembleywoman Fran Pavley’s cap and trade bill — yields few results.
Meanwhile, the Environmental Economics explains that the current spike in oil prices might be due to the financial market, not oil supply. Futures are bid up, so oil suppliers are hoarding oil for more expensive future delivery.

Walmart sets goal of 100% sustainable fish sales

Walmart’s experiments with eco-buildings reek of greenwashing, since its big box format is inextricably tied to sprawl and its economic model tied to global shipment.
But this announcement that Walmart pledges to source all of its fish from fisheries that meet Marine Stewardship Council’s sustainable criteria sounds real, and sounds like it would make a real difference in avoiding the destruction of wild fish.
I’m not going to shop there because of their treatment of humans, but I’m really happy to hear that a retailer with enough market share to make a difference is planning to avoid overfishing. The march toward fishstock depletion is one of the several scarier threats to human civilization.

Coast of Dreams

Coast of Dreams, a survey of California history since 1990 is full of nuggets that explain the origins of Californian artifacts.
Where did the massive demonstrations in LA against the immigration bill come from? The tactics, from flagwaving, to the student walkouts, to the massive gatherings and the slogans, are repeats of the tactics used to protest proposition 187, the 1994 law that took health care and education services from undocumented immigrants, and was later ruled unconstitutional.
Where did Trader Joe’s come from? The founder’s original target market was Pasadena PhD students who had sophisticated tastes in food and poverty-level budgets.
What’s the economic base of San Diego? It used to be defense contracting, and now is more biotech and telecom.
Why does Silicon Valley have a string of surprisingly lively main streets in its string of suburban towns? It’s actually not uncommon in California, where new urbanist ideas have revived walkable town centers all over the state.
What happened after the LA riots in 1992? High profile redevelopment efforts by Peter Ueberroth and representatives of the oligarchy flopped. Economic revitalization came from an unexpected direction; toy and textile businesses, founded by immigrants who colonized the underutilized downtown buildings.
Why are there green hills in Marin? Because land conservancies have been buying up open space when there would otherwise be expensive housing.
Coast of Dreams tells the history of things that seem too unnatural to have a history; one interesting chapter compares and contrasts the beach culture of Santa Barbara with the golf culture of Palm Springs.
Is it a good book?
If you’ve been following California news closely for the last 15 years, Coast of Dreams might come across as a non-book. It is a collection of stories that one might assemble from reading the paper and watching how the stories develop over the years. The footnotes section is full of citations from the LA Times, the San Francisco Chronicle and the Sacramento Bee.
The book does have a loose theme. The economic hard times prompted by the end of the cold war, which caused some skeptics to forecast the end of the California Dream, was followed by a revival led by immigrant business, entertainment and tech. The book has nothing vaguely near the the depth of Common Ground the brilliant J. Anthony Lukas 1986 social history of the Boston busing crisis, which traced the history of the ethnic groups and social institutions in Boston through to their painful collisions in the 70s.
As a newcomer to California, I found Cost of Dreams fascinating. The author, Kevin Starr, was the state librarian and author of a series on California history, and the book contains a smattering of everything Californian, ranging from religion, to real estate development, to surfing history.
The best part of the book is the author’s sprawling knowledge of California visual art, literature, food and sports. The book contains thumbnail portraits of artist Richard Diebenkorn, landscape architect Nancy Goslee Power, novelist James Ellroy, and many other cultural figures. There’s a little gem of a section that wonders why LA’s novelists are so noir, while its poets and architects are cheerful.
Starr has a cheerful, culturally omnivorous esthetic that seems like an LA sensibility that’s different from the glossy cynicism of movie execs and plastic surgery ads. It would be really fun if the book were hypertext, with links to the people, places and pictures, and maybe an annotated google map.
Sometimes Starr’s cultural history is overinterpreted; for example, the growth of mexican-american art festivals is seen as a sign of racial detente in Los Angeles, which is surely a good thing, but not the same as a reduction in violence among Blacks, Latinos and Koreans.
This isn’t the book for a profound examination of causes. Starr writes about the disasters of fire and landslides that affect Southern California; The Control of Nature by John McPhee explains how patterns of fire suppression and building make the pattern inevitable.
Starr documents the brutal costs of the drug war in urban central Los Angeles and the rural Central Valley; but he doesn’t pause to consider alternatives. He refers to the growing economic inequality, but nothing about its causes.
Starr writes about the transformation in American food habits instigated by Alice Waters in Berkeley; Ruth Reichl’s memoir, Tender at the Bone tells the juicy details.
In summary, Coast of Dreams is an enjoyable introduction to contemporary California, but it’s far from the last word.

Popularity can’t ruin open source

I am glad to see that this this LinuxWorld articlecontains plenty of quotes countering Forrester Analyst Michael Goulde’s report: “Vendors Refine Their Open Source Strategies/The Risk of Subverting Open Source Freedoms Mounts”.
Goulde argues that “The traditional open source project with a large community and volunteer contributors is going to be diluted by extensive vendor participation,” he told LinuxInsider in an interview.”
What Goulde is missing is that fast that in the open source ecosystem, a very high percentage of projects fail. Most projects, whether initiated by individuals or vendors, don’t get much contribution and die a quiet death. That’s nothing new. If new vendors release open source projects that are not interesting to developers, then those projects won’t get community participation. A tree fell in the forest and nobody heard.
His other argument makes even less sense. He writes in the report: “As major software suppliers adopt open source software as part of their strategies, the risk increases that the goals of the open source movement — user freedom to use, modify, and distribute software — will be undermined.”
But the freedom to modify is in the license, not in the promise by the vendor. If a vendor open sources a product, it uses either GPL, or BSD, or some other style of license that grants permission to modify, and requires redistribution to be credited or to be also open source. Once the vendor releases the software, they can’t take it back. Even if they offer new software under a different license, the community is now free to fork the code.
Wikiwyg — the wysiwyg editor for wikis that was initially developed by Socialtext and released open source, is getting a increasing number of useful patches and bugfixes from the community. People find it useful, it’s being adopted, and developers are contributing. The right to modify and redistribute is protected by LGPL.
If a vendor releases software that’s useful, the community will pick it up. If it’s less useful, it will get less traction. Projects might pick up interest as they mature, or lose interest if the software diverges from what the community wants. All of these patterns are common.
Rather than describing risks to open source, Gould might have described risks to vendors. If vendors hope that simply by opensourcing their code, they are guaranteed developer interest, they are sadly deluded. Just like any other product, an open source product needs to meet the needs of its customers — in this case, open source developers — in order to be successful.