Saturday Links for the Week — April 28, 2007

lions gate studios laura tomona
Painting, Lions Gate Studios, by my neighbour Laura Tomona

What it all means this week:

The Coming Geriatric Crisis: The New Yorker points out yet another looming crisis that we’re not prepared for: the explosion of geriatric patients that no one is trained to, or wants to, care for. Some frightening data:

We cling to the notion of retirement at sixty-fiveóa reasonable notion when those over sixty-five were a tiny percentage of the population, but completely untenable as they approach twenty per cent. People are putting aside less in savings for old age now than they have in any decade since the Great Depression. More than half of the very old now live without a spouse, and we have fewer children than ever beforeóyet we give virtually no thought to how we will live out our later years alone.

Equally worrying, and far less recognized, medicine has been slow to confront the very changes that it has been responsible foróor to apply the knowledge we already have about how to make old age better. Despite a rapidly growing elderly population, the number of certified geriatricians fell by a third between 1998 and 2004. Applications to training programs in adult primary-care medicine are plummeting, while fields like plastic surgery and radiology receive applications in record numbers. Partly, this has to do with moneyóincomes in geriatrics and adult primary care are among the lowest in medicine. And partly, whether we admit it or not, most doctors donít like taking care of the elderly [they’re difficult patients to care for and their illnesses are unglamourous and often incurable].

Entrepreneurs Tell Their Stories: NPR interviews some of the world’s most successful entrepreneurs to learn their secrets. An interesting mix of self-congratulation, hackneyed, discouraging conventional wisdom and brilliant insight. Thanks to Avi Solomon for the link.

Research That Matters: Aaron Swartz is collecting examples of research that, if it were acted upon, could change the way we think about and work to solve intractable problems. The response to date is remarkable and thought-provoking. Kind of like a collaborative freakonomics. Bookmark this page! Thanks to Jeff Donner for the link.

Visualization Tools: An interesting visualization portrays 100 different visualization tools you can use to add meaning and value to information. Thanks to Craig De Ruisseau for the link.

More Ideas for Greening the World: Anti-poverty crusader Jonny Platt offers 155 ways you can fight climate change.

How Bush is Closing Down US Society: Naomi Wolf explains how authoritarians shut down societies to curtain opposition and dissent, and how the Bush regime is following precisely in their footsteps.

victor papanek design function complex
The Paradox of Design & Innovation: The image above is from Victor Papanek’s book Design for the Real World. Papanek and Bucky Fuller were the environmental design gurus of the 1980s, before guys like Bill McDonough took it to the next level. Papanek, says Africa-blogger John Powers, argued for the need for design to be responsive and responsible, as well as imaginative and creative. This responsibility is reflected in the ‘telesis’ component of functional design. Telesis is defined as “progress that is intelligently planned and directed to the attainment of desired ends by the application of intelligent human effort”. Papanek relates telesis to design: “[C]ontent of a design must reflect the times and conditions that have given rise to it, and must fit in with the general human socioeconomic order in which it is to operate.” I think this is the design counterpart to the human adaptability I call Let-Self-Change. What makes it so difficult for us to manage the challenge of problem-solving is this paradox:

  • We can’t begin to design solutions until we have a rich understanding of the local context of the problem; but
  • If we don’t get outside of that local context, our imagination is constrained by The Only Life We Know

Powers cites Ethan Zuckerman as saying this is why Africa is such a great place to focus problem-solving attention:

Something thatís very important in technology research is problem selection. If you choose a boring problem to solve, you get boring technologies. If you choose a fascinating problem and are able to solve it, you can start a revolution. Right now, there are much more interesting problems in African technology than there are in the developed world, in my opinion. I think that smart computer science students around the world should be looking at the developing world for challenges to address ñ power usage, wireless networking, non-verbal interfaces, computer-based systems for microentrepreneurship. Itís a huge advantage for African innovators to be surrounded by interesting, worthwhile problems.

So, says Powers, if we think about energy problems from a North American perspective, our thinking is constrained by our awareness of the coming End of Oil and our addiction to it. But in much of Africa the End of Oil is not a significant constraint, and other problems take centre stage. What we need to do is develop and reconcile what Powers calls our Local Soul (that which knows and appreciates local context) and our Global Soul (that which can draw upon radically different contexts and ideas that have arisen in them). One way to do that, he says, is through stories, like those that the Totnes Transition Culture intentional community is compiling about a post-oil future. As these stories enrich our understanding of the context of the future, it can help us to better design ways to transition to that future.

Truly Radical Islam: Irshad Manji fearlessly challenges the misogyny, fear-mongering, self-oppression and scapegoating of much contemporary Islamic thought and dares Muslims to rediscover and embrace Islam’s proud and peaceful roots, reports PBS. Thanks to fellow Torontonian Mahjong Cory for the link.

Lawyers Doing Good Work: I trash lawyers a lot on these pages, but the lawyers at EarthJustice are doing some good work. They have a good library for environmental activists, and need our help boycotting farmed salmon.

…And Judges Doing Despicable Work: The US supreme court, in a strictly ideological and partisan decision, has upheld the Bush abortion ban, and stripped doctors of the ability to make medical decisions in the best interests of their patients. So much for the last shreds of its credibility.

Layoffs Are Bad for the Economy: James Surowiecki eloquently challenges the conventional wisdom that poor profits (and falling stock prices) can be remedied by layoffs.

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