New York City, New York (part two)

(or see as a slideshow without the comments)

…Meanwhile, in Times Square. Shafts of light and that. 

Obviously most of the time we hung out at the US Armed Forces recruiting station. Woop.

So. Many. Adverts. Must. Watch. Everything. Buy. Everything. 

Did you miss the Flag in the last one? Yeah, I’m capitalising Flag.

Fifth avenue. 

To Serve and Protect and Give Directions.

Church Flag Bus!

Oh, here’s the UN set against an amazing sky. Easy.

The interiors look like Zaha Hadid! 

I feel an interminable speech coming on…

Thoughts of Dag

Chamber of Secrets.

This was hidden on a pillar somewhere in the lobby. A memorial ‘to those astronauts and cosmonauts who have given their lives in the exploration of space for the benefit of mankind.’

This gun would have been too big to use anyway.

Beacon of bureacratic hope.

…And night night New York.

Bueno. Back soon please.

Unrealised ideals: three global governance institutions that never were

Great new institutions created at vast international conferences are not exactly what global governance 2.0 is about. They’re still pretty interesting though.

Below is a deck I used for a history presentation, followed by a full essay, on three innovations in global governance that never were. I hope it shows the interesting interplay between state interests, individual passion and individual ideas, as well as how possibilities in this area are bounded.

While the world of 2.0 suggests that new institutions will be built from the ground up, by networks of people everywhere, there’s some good stuff to learn from looking back at ideas that went unrealised.

Thanks to my ace history prof, Dan Gorman, for leading me to various bits.

New York City, New York (part one)

Canadajoe recently visited New York. In, ahem, the USA. This is what it looked like.

Winding through upstate New York at dawn, snow dusting the trees and hills of the Hudson valley…and our bus.

And rocking up to 7th Ave at about 9am.

Empire State of Black and White.

Buy more handbags!

Busy new yorkers doing busy new york things.

I liked this street. Somewhere near Chelsea Pier. Mmm…fire escapes.

Stack ’em up. Car parking where there ain’t much space.

NYC’s taxis are going hybrid. Apparently the only hybrids they could get were these weird Ford SUVs that look big on the outside, but are really quite small.

This next photo features the impossible car park again, some old school redbrick building that could be Keble College, the Empire State building, and THE MOON. Have you ever seen a photo with more stuff?

GIANT USHER TELLS YOU WHAT TO DO. 

Massive ballroom masquerading as a rail station. It was like the architect knew that flashmobs would be invented later on.

LegoTown

Oh hello Chrysler building and your wonderful art deco tower. Yes you are the best skyscraper. Yes you are.

It’s like original Grand Theft Auto!

Ooh, East River. “I’m gonna take my case to the U-nited Nations”

This was a very nice park. Square. Thing. Bank of America building in the background. Occupied that. 

Danger bike 

Is that building curved like a giant skate ramp? Hell yeah. Is that its twin across the street? Hell no! 

Part two features Times Square! See the US Armed Forces Recruiting Station! Visit the UN Plaza! Check back soon!

 

Who’s afraid of the financial transactions tax? Why trialling the tax won’t lead to the end of the world

Following the G20 summit, there have been lots of ‘where next‘ briefs on the financial transactions tax. Sarkozy had talked it up before Cannes, but failed to deliver any movement towards it at the global level. It’s in the press again following the last EU Summit – the one where Cameron upset everybody – as the UK is standing in the way of the tax. The House of Lords is already complaining about it, despite being only days into their inquiry about it.

I’ve spent some time reading pretty much everything I can find on the FTT – economic and political stuff, and the EC’s proposal, and it seems to me like it can’t be dismissed as easily as Osborne, Boris Johnson, The Economist, the FT and surprise, surprise, the banking lobby suggest.

My favourite paper is this essay from James Matheson at the IMF. He essentially reviews all the economic modelling arguments about what happens when you introduce a tax – does liquidity dry up and destory the markets? do the transactions all move elsewhere, thus meaning you raise no money anyway? are the costs of the transactions all just passed on to pensioners anyway (my favourite argument by the banks – great work guys)? – to find that there is no conclusive answer.

The UK’s version of the Robin Hood Tax website is extremely good on this stuff too, making the ecconomics readable and in some places pretty entertaining:

“Talk to a banker or hedge fund master of the universe about financial sector taxes and they’ll apparently have to call you back from their Blackberry en-route to the airport, the rest of the company in tow, quite prepared to never set foot in the country again to avoid your unnecessary meddling…”

The UK already has a transaction tax on shares: stamp duty. It raises several billion pounds a year. It doesn’t seem like it adversely affects market behaviour, or penalises any particular sector of society. In Hong Kong and Taiwan the income from these taxes represents between 1 and 2% of their GDP. We don’t hear them complaining terribly.

So if it’s not going to be the end of the world, let’s trial it (as HMT did with the bankers bonus tax) and see what happens. I don’t know if this is possible. It doesn’t seem crazy.

At some point I’ll post up my full essay, about how the FTT represents a good example of regulatory capture by private interests. Mmm..private interest.

Flickr credit: Torcello Trio

Understanding world views on climate change: #COP17 and Twitter visualisation

 cc UNclimatechange

The Durban Climate Change Conference, or #COP17, is the biggest event in global governance right now, attempting to get the world to deal with the toughest global challenge.

The conference faces all the classic global governance problems: world leaders not leading cos they’re not world leaders, they’re national leaders…how to harness the voices of a thousand NGOs and private actors…how, in essence, to bring appropriately democratic politics to the issue of climate change. 

The first step is just to be able to understand the public view – but it’s a global constitutency we’re talking about – everyone is affected by climate change.

In the context of global governance 2.0, Twitter has the potential to become, if it isn’t already, a global parliament – certainly on the debating side. Obviously Twitter doesn’t make global law, but it’s where ideas happen, its where people demonstrate what they believe, etc.

So how do you begin to make sense of all the thousands of tweets?

Cnn-ecosphere

cnn-ecosphere.com

CNN are trying – with this astonishing visualisation, called ‘Ecosphere’. It’s geekily beautiful and might help us understand the central themes of the conference. But at the moment each of the large branches, formed by the most-used words in tweets including the tag #COP17, is a fairly obvious descriptive word – Durban, Africa or Climate Change. That doesn’t tell you a lot. And it’s pretty hard to navigate to individual tweets. It might have been more useful to provide some kind of sentiment analysis – simply whether people are saying positive or negative things.

 

It’ll be interesting to see how the ecosphere changes across the next few days, especially if individual nations are named and shamed or a central sticking-point arises. If the same descriptive keywords continue to monopolise the visualisation, however, it’ll be of limited use.

On the power of imagery, addictive health behaviours and sustaining life: @designourtomorrow fun in Toronto

I spent last Saturday in the still-leafy, gloriously sun-lit campus of the University of Toronto. We crammed into Convocation Hall for the Design Our Tomorrow Conference.

Remarkably, the conference actually lived up to its billing as being basically like TED, but, well, free. Quite an extraordinary roster of speakers. Three best bits noted below.

#1 Edward Burtynsky (Photographer, TED Prize winner)

His goal is to make stuff more visible. The stuff we use all the time, but never really see. Man’s battle with nature. He’s redefining the sublime with photographs of quarries, of giant rubbish yards, of vast open cast mines, of road systems and, perhaps most amazingly of all, of oil. The picture below is of the Gulf of Mexico following the Deepwater Horizon disaster.

Recommend leafing (?) through his website – lots to look at. This video is from an exhibition of his Oil photos.

#2: Aza Raskin (Co-founder Massive Health and Fast Company ‘Master of Design’ 2011) 

Aza, formerly Creative Lead at Firefox, talked about his new project – making good health behaviours addictive. He talked about the standard behaviour change difficulties with healthy behaviours – most importantly, the lack of instant feedback for good behaviours (as opposed to the  glorious instant rewards of eating a doughnut, for example) – and his thoughts on how to create a feedback loop.

Their first experiment is The Eatery, a smartphone app which abandons all ideas of calorie counts and nutrition guides, insteady relying on peer feedback. With the app, you snap the food you’re eating and rate it on a scale of ‘Fat’ to ‘Fit’. Then everyone else in your network rates it too, providing instant feedback on the healthiness of that food. Call it Dieting 2.0, perhaps. 

#3: Eric Chivian (Nobel laureate and Founder, Center for Health and Global Environment)

Felt a little sorry for the lady from Foursquare who had to follow this guy: the Nobel Peace Prize winner and Harvard Prof who spoke movingly on his next challenge, having already helped avert nuclear war.

As founder of the Center for Health and Global Environment, he’s trying to get us to take biodiversity seriously, given that human life depends on it. He told stories of what science might learn from pregnant polar bears (who don’t get osteroperosis despite not moving for six months), cone snails (who produce toxins we could replicate as perfect painkillers) and gastric breeding frogs (whose stomachs somehow don’t digest their children..absurd). Except we won’t learn anything from the frogs, since they’re now extinct, probably due to climate change. Dammit.

He recited Carl Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot at the end of his lecture, after which anything else seems a little futile. His book is available in handy summary form (pdf).

Mad props to the organisers. Not sure how they did it, but it was, as Canada’s #1 Adjective has it, awesome.