October 2002

Roofless in Tokyo

House by the river

Since the collapse of the bubble economy, the number of homeless in Japan has risen from 1,000 in 1992 to over 30,000 in 2002. The long recession means a severe shortage of unskilled day labor in construction and manufacturing. The average age of the homeless here is 55 and they are almost entirely men. What little day labor there is usually goes to younger men. With no work, no money, and no where to go, the men buid their own shelter on public land along the boardwalk by the river and along the edges of the few public parks near the employment brokers (both legal and illegal). The houses are neat and trim, built to fight the weather and cold and to provide some basic comfort. They are also collapsible. Once a month the government comes and sweeps the houses off the boardwalk. It’s usually the same day every month, so the guys dismantle their houses and haul the materials over the wall... to rebuild them later that afternoon.

The houses are tucked away behind fences and under bridges to be less visible, and are kept neat in a conscious effort not to disturb passersby. Unlike in the States, I’ve not encountered any panhandling. They may be hungry, they may be desperate, but some things are just not done.

Row of houses along the boardwalkAlmost all the structures use the same blue vinyl tarp. The tents in the parks are looser and less constructed than along the river, presumably because the sweeps in the parks take place weekly.

The situation is utterly absurd... but not unlike that of my own neighborhood. There’s no place to go, says the City, you just can’t stay here.

After a mass eviction in 1993, the “Coalition of the Homeless in Shinjuku” was formed to provide mutual support, to seek livelihood and employment guarantees, and to stop the evictions, referred to by the government as “environmental cleaning.” After years of denying the problem, the national government passed a controversial law in August 2002 to provide some relief. Still, the evictions continue and the additional shelter has not yet been built. It remains to be seen how the new measures will proceed. The guys don’t want handouts, they just want work, affordable housing, and to be treated with respect.

Read more about the Movement of the Coalition of the Homeless on the Web site of the Resource Center for Homeless Rights.

>  28 October 2002 | LINK | Filed in , ,

Power and Geography

“Michael Miller is a geographer with over a decade of providing geographical services to organizations involved in monitoring global human rights.

These services include map research, cartographic production for publications, web sites and presentations, satellite imagery analysis, and geographic information systems.

His maps have appeared in media throughout North America and Europe, and on the web. Clients have included: Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, Global Witness, and Public Affairs, Rutledge, Yale University and Westview Presses.“

Some sample maps at his Web site, rightsmaps.com:

>  26 October 2002 | LINK | Filed in ,

The Art of the FBI

The FBI’s “counter intelliegence” program COINTELPRO was created in 1956 to neutralize political dissidents in the United States. Although the FBI’s COINTELPRO’s officially ended in 1971, there have been many examples of counterintelligence-type operations against political dissidents since. The 1976 investigation led by Senator Frank Church officially brought COINTELPRO’s mission to light:

“‘to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize’ such groups and their ‘leadership, spokesmen, members, and supporters.’ The larger objectives were to ‘counter’ their ‘propensity for violence’ and to ‘frustrate’ their efforts to ‘consolidate their forces’ or to ‘recruit new or youthful adherents.’ Field offices were instructed to exploit conflicts within and between groups; to use news media contacts ridicule and otherwise discredit groups; to prevent ‘rabble rousers’ from spreading their ‘philosophy’ publicly; and to gather information on the ‘unsavory backgrounds’ of group leaders.

One of their techniques was the use of “black propaganda,” bogus information that conceals or fakes its source. This included faked letters, poems, and satirical comic books to pit activists against one another.

Stay Free Magazine’s article “Fake Letters and Bad Poetry: Highlights from the FBI’s Secret War on Dissent” lists several examples:

Coloring Books

Previously mentioned here, the Black Panther Coloring Book was designed by the FBI to appear as if created by the Panthers. The books contained inflamatory pictures, some of which featured young black kids shooting pigs dressed as policemen. From the Church report:

Click here for more images from the FBI's Black Panther Coloring Book“One of the Bureau’s prime targets was the BPP’s free ”Breakfast for Children” program, which FBI headquarters feared might be a potentially successful effort by the BPP to teach children to hate police and to spread ‘anti-white propaganda.’ In an admitted attempt ‘to impede their contributions to the BPP Breakfast Program,’ the FBI sent anonymous letters and copies of an inflammatory Black Panther Coloring Book for children to contributors, including Safeway Stores, Inc., Mayfair Markets, and the Jack-In-The-Box Corporation.

On April 8, 1976 in Executive Testimony a former member of the BPP Central Steering Committee stated that when the coloring book came to the attention of the Panther’s national leadership, Bobby Seale ordered it destroyed because the book ‘did not correctly reflect the ideology of the Black Panther Party.’”

Posters and Flyers

Paul Krassner writes in “The FBI and Me — An American Story”:

“In 1969, the FBI attempt to assassinate my character escalated to a more literal approach. I discovered this, not in the file kept by Cointelpro, the FBI’s counterintelligence program, but as part of a separate project calculated to cause rifts between the Jewish and black communities.

The FBI produced a ‘WANTED’ poster featuring a large swastika. In the four square spaces of the swastika were photos of Yippie leaders Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, SDS leader Mark Rudd, and myself. Under the headline ‘Lampshades! Lampshades! Lampshades! Lampshades!’ the copy referred to ‘the only solution to Negro problems in America’ as being ‘the elimination of the Jews,’ listed in the following order: ‘All Jews connected with the Establishment. All Jews connected with Jews connected with the Establishment. All Jews connected with those immediately above. All Jews except those in the Movement. All Jews in the Movement except those who dye their skins black. All Jews. (Look out, Abbie, Jerry, Mark and Paul!)’

The flyer was approved, once again, by [Kartha] DeLoach and [William] Sullivan [J. Edgar Hoover’s top two assistants]: ‘Authority is granted to prepare and distribute on an anonymous basis to selected individuals and organizations in the New Left the leaflet submitted..,. Assure that all necessary precautions are taken to protect the Bureau as the source of these leaflets [which] suggest facetiously the elimination of these leaders [to] create further ill feeling between the New Left and the black nationalist movement....’

And if some overly militant African American had obtained that flyer and ‘eliminated’ one of those ‘New Left leaders who are Jewish,’ the FBI’s bureaucratic behind would be covered: ‘We said it was a facetious suggestion, didn’t we?’”


sds.pngIn their chapter on COINTELPRO and the New Left in The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI’s Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States, Ward Churchill and Jim Vander Wall reproduce an FBI memo [pages 1, 2] which lays out the Bureau’s plan to disrupt the New Left:

“Consider the use of cartoons, photographs, and anonymous letters which will have the effect of ridiculing the New Left. Ridicule is one of the most potent weapons which we can use against it.”

A further memo [pages 1, 2] details the plan to disrupt Students for a Democratic Society at Temple University through the use of cartoons, pamphlets and anonymous letters.

The cartoon displayed here was produced and distributed by the Philadelphia FBI office as part its plan to subvert SDS at Temple University. The caption, in a parody of the rhetoric of Sen. Joseph McCarthy reads, “I have in my hand a list of 200 names of people who don’t advocate the violent overthrow of the government.”

Mail Art

From Stay Free:

The Siberian Beetle is Black“The FBI believed that many New Left leaders had a weakness for spiritualist mumbo-jumbo, so a 1968 memo suggested mailing them anonymous cartoons such as the one pictured here. Subsequent mailings (from increasingly closer locations) could say ‘The Siberian Beetle is Black’ or ‘The Siberian Beetle Can Talk.’ Other proposed characters included ‘The Chinese Scorpion’ and ‘The Egyptian Cobra’ — anything with a sinister meaning open to mystical interpretation. According to FBI documents, the messages were intended to cause concern, mental anguish, suspicion, and distrust among their recipients.”


From Stay Free:

“Socialist Workers Party leader George Weissman became the first subject of an FBI poem in 1964, shortly after being framed for stealing from a civil rights leader. According to an internal memo dated 4/10/64, the FBI mailed out an anonymous letter, along with this verse, to radical publications. The purpose was ‘to discredit the Party in the Negroe civil rights field.’”


Spoken Word

From Stay Free:

“In a 1963 internal memo, counterintelligence specialist Charles D. Brennan stated that civil rights agitation represented a clear threat to ‘the established order’ of the U.S. and that ‘King is growing in stature daily as the leader among leaders of the Negro movement.’ COINTELPRO head William C. Sullivan responded in a letter: ‘We must mark [King] now, if we have not before, as the most dangerous Negro in the future of this Nation from the standpoint of communism, the Negro, and national security... it may be unrealistic to limit [our actions against King] to legalistic proofs that would stand up in court or before Congressional Committees.’

Instead of sticking to the law, then, the FBI aimed to discredit King by any means necessary. Agents tapped his phone, bugged his rooms, trumpeted his supposed commie connections, and his sexual proclivities, and sicced the Internal Revenue Service on him. When it was announced in 1964 that King would receive a Nobel Peace Prize, the FBI grew desperate. Hoping to prevent King from accepting the award, the Bureau mailed him a package containing a tape of phone calls documenting King’s extramarital affairs and an anonymous, threatening letter (shown here in censored form). In barely concealed language, King was told to commit suicide before the award ceremony or risk seeing his ‘filthy, abnormal fraudulent self’ exposed to the nation. Fortunately, King ignored the FBI’s advice. He accepted the award and lived four more years until his assassination.”

Read more in Ward Churchill’s The COINTELPRO Papers: Documents from the FBI’s Secret Wars Against Dissent in the United States.

>  21 October 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

Collective Agency

iStockPhoto is a collection of royalty-free files contributed by its members. iStock members are part of an international community of artists which has created a huge database, growing at an exponential rate. Members can download from a collection of images, audio, and Flash, browse through our forums on design and photograph.

Members can now download from a database of hi-rez images, audio, Flash and more for [U.S.] 25 cents per download - new members start with 2 download credits to get accquainted.

Download credits are accumulated either by depositing money into your iStock account or from download earnings. iStock uses $.20 from each download to cover its bandwidth costs, and $.05 (five cents) is returned to the member who uploaded the file. This ensures that regular contributors will always have download credits, and all others can download photos for only $.25 each.”

Most stock photography is out of the financial reach of individuals and organizations without a photo budget. Photodisc, the pioneer of the online stock photo market, charges $50 a pop for its cheapest images. iStockPhoto is a kind of mutual-support initiative providing imagery to its members practically for free.

And, through iStockPhoto the photographer, not the photo agency, retains the copyright of the images. Many stock photo agencies have increasly asked photographers to give away more and more of their rights for less and less money.

Unfortunately, for photographers who depend on income from their imagemaking this grassroots initiative is yet another contender in a crowded market. But for those who believe imagery should be free and who want to share it freely iStockPhoto is a beautiful thing.

>  19 October 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , , ,

The Chicago Women’s Graphics Collective

The Chicago Women’s Graphics Collective was organized in 1970 to create posters for the growing women’s liberation movement. The Women’s Graphics Collective used silkscreen to create large brilliantly colored prints in large quantities on a low budget. Later the group used offset printing for the more popular posters. The founders of the Graphics Collective wanted their new feminist art to be a collective process in order to set it apart from the male-dominated Western art culture. Each poster was created by a committee of 2 to 4 women led by the artist/designer. Thousands of posters were sold all over the world until the Graphics Collective dissolved in 1983.”

The Collective was founded as a ‘work group’ of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union. From 1969-1977, CWLU members “dedicated themselves to developing grassroots programs for women while working toward a long term revolution in American society.” See the CWLU statement of purpose and list of programs. Though strongly affiliated, the Graphics Collective was autonomous from the CWLU and outlived the group by 5 years.

Find out more about the Graphics Collective, the CWLU, or browse through the gallery of posters . Subjects include the feminist uprising, abortion rights, a farmworkers solidarity boycott, ads for local events and facilities, the Vietnam war, and September 11, 1973.

>  17 October 2002 | LINK | Filed in , ,

Eco PC

Lead, beryllium, mercury, cadmium, brominated flame retardants... the toxic chemicals in your PC and CRT monitor pose both occupational and environmental threats, particularly in low-income communities and developing countries. (Compare maps of Santa Clara’s toxic sites with a county map of child-poverty levels.)

The Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition writes:

“Electronic waste from obsolete computers, televisions and other devices is one of the fastest growing and most toxic sources of waste. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, in 2000 more than 4.6 million tons of e-waste ended up in US landfills and the amount is projected to grow fourfold in the next few years.”

A news.com series on computer disposal notes, “All parties involved in the recycling debate agree there is only one way to achieve environmental safety in computer disposal: Redesign the hardware from scratch.”

Japanese computer maker NEC has risen to the challenge. The PowerMate Eco is billed as the world’s first “environmentally-friendly” PC. The device features a 900MHz Transmeta Crusoe processor, 256 MB of RAM, a 20GB hard drive, and a built in LCD display. Environmentally-friendly qualities include:

  • A lead-free motherboard
  • A low-heat design that doesn’t require a noisy fan
  • An energy efficient LCD display that doesn’t contain the hazardous materials found in conventional CRT monitors
  • A case that’s made from 100% recyclable plastic that doesn’t require the toxic brominated fire-retardant coating of traditional plastic cases

Between the energy efficient processor and LCD display, NEC estimates the device uses one-third the power of other PCs.

For more information, see the PowerMate product page or press release.

>  15 October 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

Japanese Manhole Covers

Manhole cover in Osaka

Grooves in manhole covers are necessary to provide traction in all kinds of weather to the vehicles above. But there’s no reason those grooves can’t spell out fun. Japanese manhole cover designs range from sublimely patterned to the surreal and fully illustrative. I haven’t been able to find any background information in English, but it seems there are not only different designs for the different types of conduits they cover, but each city has its own designs celebrating some signature feature of the town. Some are even maps to the local landmarks. Here are some sites with pictures:

There’s even an informal Japanese association of manhole cover watchers that organizes tours. The site highlights some of their favorite covers.

On a related note, see also this portable Japanese emergency toilet design that fits over a manhole in case a natural disaster. Screw that port-a-john business. When the City collapses, I want one of these handy.

I took the photo above near the main train station in Osaka.

>  13 October 2002 | LINK | Filed in ,

Closing Song

Doors close soon after the melody ends.

The first time I took the Tokyo subway system I noticed the lyrical little melody that announced that the doors were about to close. A sort of well-tempered Casio clavier running up the scales. I noticed it, but didn’t think much of it. It’s certainly more pleasant than NYC’s generic bing-bong sound, but is nothing to write home about. After all, lots of rail systems have some kind of audio cue. Then I heard the bossa-nova variation at the Harajuku Japan Rail station. Wow! That’s some funky stuff! It turns out different lines have different tunes. They also change the tunes periodically to keep people on their toes. Stay tuned to this station.

>  11 October 2002 | LINK | Filed in , ,

Pumpkins for Peace

No War Pumpkin

“The Peace Pumpkin Project is a simple way to demonstrate your opposition to a war in Iraq. The idea is this: this year, carve the words ‘No War’ into your [Halloween] jack-o-lantern. That’s it. Do it to as many pumpkins as you want, and put them wherever you want as long as you don’t break the law or hurt anyone. If you’re carving-knife impaired, You can download a stencil in .pdf form. You could carve other words into the pumpkin, if you feel that ‘No War’ doesn’t express your opinion well enough, but I think it would increase the overall impact if people keep seeing the same simple message over and over: NO WAR.”

Found via Metafilter. Pumpkin shown is by the author of the Project Without a Name.

>  9 October 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

Media Democracy Day

October 2002 is October 18, 2002 is Media Democracy Day, “a day of education, protest, and calls for change in the interest of the people.”

Media Democracy Day pushes for and promotes a mass media system that informs and empowers all members of society. Media Democracy Day connects existing critical and creative media with active social movements, creating a coherent message for public attention and local and global action.

Following the rise of social movements for feminism, racial justice, and environmentalism in recent decades, international efforts to democratize the media are now mobilizing for education, protest, and change. Media Democracy prioritizes diversity over monotony, citizen control over corporate choice, cultural development over company profit, and public discourse over public relations.

Visit the Web sites in the U.S. and U.K.. Events are planned around the world. This flyer lists some in the U.S., Canada, and Europe.

>  7 October 2002 | LINK | Filed in

Save America’s Clocks

Save America’s Clocks is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to locating, inventorying and assisting in the preservation and maintenance of all of America’s public clocks. By public clocks we mean any and all clocks that the public sees. That includes street (post) clocks, tower and church clocks, digital clocks...you name it. Non-working clocks betray the public trust and send out a message that nobody’s home.¬†When these clocks are left to deteriorate, we all lose part of our rich heritage.”

Not much on the site yet, but there are lots of pictures of public clocks.

Is this ‘Social Design’? More design in the public interest. I should do a more substantive entry on public clocks. In the meantime, three days of meetings in Tokyo and the jet lag is still killing me. Still haven’t quite shaken the grip of U.S. time.

Found via Ruavista.

>  5 October 2002 | LINK | Filed in , ,

Steun! Stem! Staak!

Support! Vote! Strike! From the International Institute of Social History, 150 Dutch social and political posters from 1870 - 1998. The posters are divided into twelve periods and two special themes. The index is in Dutch, so here’s my rough translation:

>  3 October 2002 | LINK | Filed in , , ,

Free as in School

In April 2001 MIT President Charles M. Vest announced the plans to make MIT’s courseware freely available on the Internet. On September 30, 2002 MIT launched MIT OpenCourseWare. The online courses include lecture notes, course outlines, reading lists and assignments.

“MIT OpenCourseWare will provide the content of, but is not a substitute for, an MIT education....”

The material is free for non-commercial use and is not for acaedmic credit. From an OpenCourseWare factsheet:

“MIT [OpenCourseWare] is not a distance learning initiative. Distance learning involves the active exchange of information between faculty and students, with the goal of obtaining some form of a credential. Increasingly, distance learning is also limited to those willing and able to pay for materials or course delivery.

MIT OCW is not meant to replace degree granting higher education. Rather, the goal is to provide the content that supports an education.

From President Vest:

“We hope the idea of openly sharing course materials will propagate throughout many institutions and create a global web of knowledge that will enhance the quality of learning and, therefore, the quality of life worldwide.

The pilot falls short of the 500 courses initially planned for the launch, but it’s a very nice start.

We are opening our pilot to the public for review and feedback. It contains a sample of MIT courses, offering an early look at the content and design of OCW. As we pursue our intensive work to find the most effective way to make OCW a valuable resource for all who use it, we will continue to add courses, until virtually all are available.”

>  2 October 2002 | LINK | Filed in ,

Images of Universal Design

“[In 1996,] the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Building Museum sponsored the first national search and collection of images showing examples of universal design excellence in the fields of architecture, graphic design, industrial design, interior design and landscape architecture. This collection was completed in September of 1996 and is intended to encourage and assist universal design by providing examples that can be used in design practice and education. The jury selected images feature and credit the work of designers who are reaching beyond compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act to create products and environments that are usable by people with the broadest possible range of abilities throughout their lifespan.”

The project was managed by Universal Designers and Consultants of Takoma Park, MD. The list of winners links to four project profiles:

adaptiveenvironments.org links to four others:

Read the introduction for an overview of universal design principles and the project selection process.

>  1 October 2002 | LINK | Filed in , ,

On to November.
Back to September.