Author Archives: maikwl

Greece is building a $7.3 Million Barbed Wire Fence To Keep Out Illegal Immigrants

Jeez, this will just require wire cutters!

Feb. 9, 2012 – In a bid to curb the number of illegal immigrants that enter the country, Greece has begun construction on a 6 mile-long, 13 foot-tall barbed-wire-topped fence along its border with Turkey, EUObserver reports.
The fence — to be completed in September in the Evros region on the Greek-Turkish border — will be equipped with a network of night-vision cameras providing live feed to a new command center, according to Greek newspaper ENet. The project will cost cash-strapped Greece about €5.5 million ($7.3 million).
Greece is one of the 26 EU nations part of the Schengen Area, which has external border controls but none within the zone. And since Greece is on the edge of the area, and Turkey has not signed the Schengen Agreement, Greece is required to maintain its border controls, according to the AP.
To make matters more complicated, Turkey’s lax visa requirements mean that nationals from Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Syria, Jordan, Libya, and Iran do not need a visa to enter Turkey, making Greece the most common illegal entrypoint into Europe. The Greek-Turkish border is 180 kilometers (112 miles) long.
While the European Commission called the fence a national issue, it criticized it as being a “pointless” short-term solution.
Christos Papoustis (sic), a former European commissioner and currently Greece’s minister for citizen protection said the fence has both “practical and symbolic value.” “Traffickers should know that this route will be closed to them. Their life is about to get much harder,” he said.
According to official figures, around 55,000 migrants were arrested in the area last year Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News reports.
NGOs are worried that fencing off the land border will divert refugees fleeing violence in Africa and the Middle East to more dangerous routes in the Balkans or Ukraine, the EUObserver says.

After a significant number of studies and reports on the effectiveness of a variety of measures on blocking international migration (or even plain old common sense) the Greek government should have figured out that fences are generally a very stupid idea! NGOs may be missing here another level of tragic “unseen” results of the fence policy – that is, the many more drownings in the Aegean Sea since the barrier will push immigrants and their slave-traders to increasingly pursue sea routes in more dangerous conditions! This has been the international experience e.g. in the case of crossings at more remote locations on the US-Mexico border.

There is of course also a longer-term perspective on what the country will eventually be missing out when it spends money on blocking people instead of governing their wider integration and participation in the commons. I defer to Sir Peter Hall and Chapter 2 of his “door-stop” volume Cities in Civilization, titled ‘The Fountainhead’ (not THAT Fountainhead), examining the city of Athens at its most enlightened period in history: 500 – 400 BC. After describing the rather cushy everyday lives of the Athenian citizenry, which essentially formed a “gigantic civil service” (sounds familiar?), the author moves on to discussion the class of the metics, the productive pillar of ancient Athens – a class of residents that the city would have missed out on in a hypothetical regime of fence-building:

Yet someone had to keep the economy going. In this extraordinary society, a peculiar but vitally important position was held by the resident aliens or metics. The so-called ‘metoikoi’ were in fact a small though special sub-group, who made a special tax called ‘metoikion’ to live in Athens permanently, of a much larger group of free migrants or ‘katoikoi’. These ‘katoikountes’ included very large numbers on non-Hellenes; though the majority were Greeks […], including ex-slaves who had found their freedom, by the fourth century BC they also included Thracians, Phrygians, Carians, Paphlagonians, Celts, Lydians, Syrians , Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Egyptians, Arabians, Scythians, and Persians.


The metics had no political rights (politics was the primary concern of citizens) and could not own land, but did enjoy “personal freedom, protection of the law, liberty of worship and almost unlimited work opportunities”. They essentially run the economy – by the fourth century, they constituted about half of all professionals!:

Here, ‘their keenness and energy are amazing’: ‘They do everything… The Metics do the removal of rubbish, mason’s work, and plastering, they capture the wood trade, timber construction, and rough carpentry, metal work and all subsidiary occupations are in their hands […]. Metics played and equally prominent part in art, medicine and, above all, philosophy. ‘To art it was but a step from industry’, since the craftsmen became artists. […] Athens, the city that gave them hospitality, owed its striking intellectual achievements overwhelmingly to them, as it drew on the intellectual resources of the entire eastern Mediterranean, to become Europe’s first truly cosmopolitan city.

Greece in the time of the Troika and deep recession admittedly presents some complications in the idea of uncontrolled migration. Migrants that enter a country dominated by lawlessness and unaccountability may adopt the bad behaviors of their hosts. But it may also be that one of the solutions to our current problems is an external “imported” re-invigoration of economic activity (and yes, culture!) through openness to all immigrants and especially those who bring important skills in crafts, are dynamic and entrepreneurial, and thirsty for building up their livelihoods, achieving significant improvements in their quality of life.


The green case for cities

A Thoreau-like existence in the great outdoors isn’t green. Density is green. Does this mean that we all have to live in Manhattan? Not necessarily. Cities such as Stockholm and Copenhagen are dense without being vertical. And closer to home is Montreal, where the predominant housing form is a three- or four-story walk-up. Walk-ups, which don’t require elevators, can create a sufficient density—about 50 people per acre—to support public transit, walkability, and other urban amenities. Increasing an area’s density requires changing zoning to allow smaller lots and compact buildings such as walk-ups and townhouses.

In other words, being truly green means returning to the kinds of dense cities and garden suburbs Americans built in the first half of the 20th century. A tall order—but after the binge of the last housing boom, many Americans might be ready to consider a little downsizing.


Post-medium publishing

Almost every form of publishing has been organized as if the medium was what they were selling, and the content was irrelevant. Book publishers, for example, set prices based on the cost of producing and distributing books. They treat the words printed in the book the same way a textile manufacturer treats the patterns printed on its fabrics.

Economically, the print media are in the business of marking up paper. We can all imagine an old-style editor getting a scoop and saying “this will sell a lot of papers!” Cross out that final S and you’re describing their business model. The reason they make less money now is that people don’t need as much paper.


Now that the medium is evaporating, publishers have nothing left to sell. Some seem to think they’re going to sell content—that they were always in the content business, really. But they weren’t, and it’s unclear whether anyone could be.

I’d like half a kilo of Dostoyevsky paper please. And can you wrap it up in hard cover?
Paul Graham, you rule!

(more of this yummy essay here…)

The Weirdest people in the world?

It’s a pretty shocking fact, but pretty much everything we think we know about human behaviour derives from studies of US undergraduates – the psychologists’ ‘lab rat’! These people are WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) in more ways than one.
A paper from three psychologists at the University of British Columbia lays out in stark detail just how unusual the WEIRDs are, at least from a global perspective. First off, some stats to give you an idea of just how big the problem is. Of studies published in the top psychology journals:

  • 96% of subjects come from Western industrialized countries, which have only 12% of the world’s population. And the USA alone accounts for 68% of all study subjects.
  • 99% of the investigators live in these countries, and 73% live in the USA.
  • 67% of the subjects in US studies, and a staggering 80% of studies in other countries, consist solely of psychology undergraduates!
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    The road to success

    I just love allegorical maps like these, if only for their delightfully straightforward semiotics. This map of the Road to Success depicts an actual road, winding up to success signified by a lyre. This (literally) lyrical prize is achieved by first entering the Gate of Opportunity. People are running through, but some have already settled in to the sit-down life of ease and comfort in what looks like the Beer Garden of Bohemianism. Some manage to pass by those delights to check in to the Hotel Know It All, because they hold to mottoes such as Nobody can tell me, or I don’t need to practice, or I’m a born genius, or yet: I don’t need system. Similarly misguided cries are heard on the patio of the Mutual Admiration Society: You’re the Hit of the Age, You’ll Set the World on Fire, You’re a Wonder My Boy, or (my favourite): Caruso Can’t Touch You. Those who avoid those three establishments of ill repute might still fall victim to the deep, dark well of Illiteracy, or the spinning, disorienting wheel of Conceit. A select few manage to board the train called Right System at the Railroad Station. That doesn’t stop some from running along the rail track towards Success, only to succumb to the ugly hand of Vices, the spinning fan of Bad Habits (blowing its victims towards Oblivion), or the pitfall of Bad Reputation.

    (Read the rest here)

    What A City Needs

    Successful cities need both the human interactions of Jane Jacobs and the enabling infrastructure of Robert Moses. Anthony Flint has done a fine job describing the battles between these two great figures, but unlike the Louis-Schmeling fight, their conflict should not be resolved. An absolute victory for Moses leads to heartless cities, built to accommodate cars but not pedestrians, with high-rise buildings that are disconnected from their streets. An absolute victory for Jacobs means a city frozen in concrete with prices that are too high and buildings that are too low. New building is needed to welcome the diversity that makes urban magic. No city can survive without the personal engagements beloved by Jacobs, but no city can thrive without master builders such as Moses. Mumbai and Shanghai had better take note.