Saturday, November 15, 2014

Just Good Enough, Bricoleurs, and Convenient Inconvenience

In The Savaga Mind Claude Levi-Strauss referred to Bricoleurs.  Amen.  Nuf said for now.

I remembered this when trying to fix a clogged faucet, one of those pull out jobs with a sprayhead.  I cannot find an instruction on the Internet for disassembly of the sprayhead: it is assumed that one just pops over to the nearest Home Depot and buys a replacement.  This is intended as a commentary on our society.  The throw away society.  In one of the coolest videos ever, that was actually not a youtube video, but was posted there, a 13 year old Canadian girl and her friends got some money together to attend a climate conference in Brazil, where she spoke out to the assembled powerful and rich  about many things. Unforgettably, she said "we buy and throw away, buy and throw away, and yet northern countries will not share with the needy. Even when we have more than enough, we are afraid to lose some of our wealth, afraid to share."  The transcript for that speech is found here, among other places.

Marshallese fishermen use the odd beer can on the beach, tearing it to form a knife edge, to clean a fish.  Or, if that isn't enough, find broken glass to put to the same task.  Primitively, men did the same thing---utilize what is available to solve the problem.

I will call this is a designed inconvenience, now a part of how we think.  You need a youtube HOWTO video to figure out how to unscrew a showerhead, buy a replacement (even being given a selection of local outlets), and screw the new one back on.  But to take it apart?  A special tool would probably cost double the showerhead.  It's the way we think.

Why does this remind me of the concept of "Just Good Enough," pointed out to me by my friend Craig Smith.  I think this is what it is: no longer interested in making a high quality photograph, with fine resolution and perfect composition, dust spots touched up, mounted on a matt in a golden triangle---we now are pleased enough with a crappy digital shot made with a phone.  The phones get better, even digital point and shoots, but they never achieve that excellence we once found essential.  The quality of a recording made with a cell phone is just good enough.  Perhaps I have subverted this idea to my own means.  It is referred on Wikipedia as The Principle of Good Enough. The kernel of it is cited as follows:

The principle of good enough or "good enough" principle is a rule for software and systems design. It indicates that consumers will use products that are good enough for their requirements, despite the availability of more advanced technology.[1]

Enough said.

Or maybe not: the Internet has been devolving into an operating system for consumerism appliances.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Inappropriateness of western school architecture in the third world

On Saipan and in Chuuk, where I spent 24 years of my life as a teacher, the school structures are inappropriate for the climate, not to mention culturally.  I get it: concrete block houses are much to be preferred in a typhoon; they are cleaner; they are drier. See this article. Where traditional houses were open, with thatched rooves, the modern equivalent use roofing tin, plywood, lumber, concrete or concrete blocks.  I have lived through a few typhoons, in various circumstances.   Our home was blown away in Typhoon Nina, in Chuuk, in 1987, while I slept in the concrete "tilt-up" home next door.  I cannot but wonder  what it would have been like to hunker down in a thatched structure through a serious typhoon.  Many, indeed most, islands in Micronesia are less than 10 feet above the highest high tide mark, and during intense typhoons they may be washed over.   One has heard stories of women giving birth in the tops of coconut trees.  Concrete homes, to the Micronesian family, represent a huge improvement in living conditions, in this respect.

But the tropics are humid, and can be hot.  Micronesian islands, being as they are oceanic, are not as hot as some, and thatched structures  can render conditions tolerable, even comfortable.   Concrete block structures, or even plywood structures, are poorly ventilated; they can be uncomfortable.  One supposes that the advantages outweigh the disadvantages, but the simple local structure---whether thatched, with the very best ventilation, or a shack hastily cobbled together out of plywood, parts of trees, stones, coral rock, and roofing tin---seems to fit the circumstances much, much more comfortably and appropriately.   Life in the islands under these circumstances is, in my mind, a joy.   Inside the air conditioned concrete buildings, with glass windows and doors, sealed against nature and the climate: not so much.

It has been said that Robert Gibson, the first Director of Education of the US Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (US TTPI), commented on his inaugural plane trip to Micronesia, that his vision was explicitly NOT to build another Americal Educational System.   One assumes that he was referring to the curriculum and the teaching model, but the infrastructure may be an apt parallel.  The curriculums that were adopted over the years have become more and more American in terms of content, as well as teaching models, until today, the revisions engendered by the "No Child Left Behind" programs in the US DOE have become incorporated into the schools of American Micronesia, especially as it is linked to funding and testing.

But it wasn't only the educational programs that have become westernized.   Americanized.  The school infrastructures are as modernly American as the best minds of Micronesia (as trained in American schools) have been able to make them.  Let me emphasize: it wasn't only  Americans who most energetically worked for the building of schools on a *modern* model.

Working in schools in Micronesia, I have often  joked, "how much  better adapted to the tropics are thatched rooves and open rooms?"   Alright, it's not that easy, not that simple...

Here's the point of this post: a huge proportion of the pathetic budget of the local school district, on Saipan, is spent on energy.  Classes come to a standstill when air conditioners are broken, or power is off.  This is the tropics.  Humidity should not be a show stopper.  A significant part of the power bill goes to paying for electric power.  At least one school has an alternative energy project, making some small progress in eliminating dependency; the costs are incredible.  

When did we hear architecture discussed?  I have been in homes that are comforable without air conditioning.  These buildings seemingly were designed with other thoughts in mind. 

We haven't even started on the "digital divide." Or the appropriate curriculum framework for the islands.  Why is English a required subject for every student, in all grade levels; when local languages are either not taught, or taught as an afterthought.  Is this an adequate indication that these are Transplanted American Educational Systems?   I am aware of more sophisticated aspects of native micronesian languages, that are known by very few: is it not worth the money or time to teach these---while they still are accessible.  The decline is underway.  

Money talks. 

The article comes from a different direction, but no doubt about it,  school infrastrucure lacks.

Once the fish are gone, the games are on.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Non disclosure: a couple of perspectives

In re the realities in Fukushima


It seems that a pall of suspicion has lingered in the air, over whether TEPCO and/or the Japanese government has been forthcoming about the parameters of the after-effects of the Fukushima meltdown.  Some attention has focused, perhaps even more, in the recent months, on Cesium in the Ocean off the West Coast.   The pall of mistrust still lingers---who is telling the truth?

Comparing  Disclosure of Cancer to patients in the US and Japan

I recall from readings in Medical Anthropology a distinction in the way cancer is handled in Japan and in Western cultures.  In Japan, the patient is less likely to be informed, while the family is informed of the diagnosis of Cancer.  This holds true for Adolescents as well.  One recent article calls attention to possible anomalies in the incidence of recent cases of Thyroid cancer in children, and assertations by the goverment that the cases are likely unrelated to exposure to radiation at Fukushima:

“It is likely (the 44 children) developed tumors or lumps before the nuclear accident,” the Japanese daily cites a Fukushima prefectural government official as saying.
Further information from that article:

However, Christopher Busby from the European Committee on Radiation Risks (ECRR) wrote for RT that “the 2005 Japanese national incidence rate for thyroid cancer in the age bracket 0-18 is given in a recent peer reviewed report as 0.0 per 100,000.”

Busby argues that based on the ECRR’s scientific model, there could be “some 200,000 extra cancers in roughly 10 million of the population in the 200km radius of the site in the next 10 years, and 400,000 over 50 years.”

He further notes that the risk model currently employed by the Japanese government predicts “no detectable cancers will be seen as a result of the ‘very low doses’ received by the population.”
He has said their model, the International Commission of Radiological Protection, has produced results which can only be characterized as “nonsense.”

Local residents have been highly critical of the prefectural government’s alleged downplaying of the risk of radiation exposure, the accuracy of its thyroid testing and the means by which information is disclosed.

It occurs to me that the appalling tendency toward lack of accurate information may be conditioned by the same cultural features that incline family members in Japan to not inform a cancer patient of her diagnosis.

Just thinking aloud.  To think further about this would require one to stand aside from his own cultural biases.  This is a very difficult thing to do.  Very.

More reason to reassess, or to fear?

 From another article: Is this a conspiracy or a plan?

Tokyo Shimbun, December 31, 2013, with translation by Fukushima Voice (version 2e), published Jan. 6, 2014: It was discovered that the memorandum of cooperation between the IAEA and Fukushima as well as Fukui Prefectures contain a confidentiality clause [...] critics say “it could be preempting the State Secrecy Protection Law.” [...] In Fukushima Prefecture, it was the prefectural government that entered into an agreement with IAEA in the area of decontamination and radioactive waste management, whereas Fukushima Medical University entered into an agreement with IAEA in the area of the survey of radiological effect on human health. [...] “The Parties will ensure the confidentiality of information classified by the other Party as restricted or confidential.” [...] if either the prefectures or IAEA decide to classify information for “they contribute to worsening of the residents’ anxiety,” there is a possibility that such information as the accident information, as well as radiation measurement data and thyroid cancer information may not be publicized. [...] IAEA has published reports, after the Chernobyl nuclear accident, stating “there were no health effects due to radiation exposure.” [...]