amor mundi

Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Friday, July 25, 2014

Teaching

Mid-term is upon me for my second summer intensive at Berkeley, and things are getting weedier by the day. Suffer, blog!

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Interstellar Transcendence of Lucy

When it comes to the movies, most science fiction would be more accurately described as pseudoscience fiction.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

SPLC Contextualizes the Cliven Bundy Episode in the Authoritarian Racist Right-Wing Militia Movement

From the Southern Poverty Law Center, a crucial report, WAR IN THE WEST: The Bundy Ranch Standoff and the American Radical Right:
The Bundy standoff has invigorated an extremist movement that exploded when President Obama was elected, going from some 150 groups in 2008 to more than 1,000 last year. Though the movement has waxed and waned over the last three decades, antigovernment extremists have long pushed, most fiercely during Democratic administrations, rabid conspiracy theories about a nefarious New World Order, a socialist, gun-grabbing federal government and the evils of federal law enforcement. Today’s disputes with federal authority, many long simmering, are an extension of the earlier right-wing Sagebrush Rebellion, Wise Use and “county supremacy” movements... What is puzzling is why the B[ureau of] L[and] M[anagement] allowed Bundy to get away for 20 years without paying grazing fees that all other ranchers pay. And what is equally surprising is the almost amateurish way the BLM finally moved against Bundy. What both point to is a failure of the federal government to come to terms with the true nature of the war in the West. Cliven Bundy may have faded from public view, but the movement that spawned him is boiling. Government officials need to understand what motivates this movement because the Millers will not be the last to demonstrate their antigovernment rage with bullets. Law enforcement officials also need training on a movement that increasingly targets them. Two decades after the Waco debacle, federal officials continue to struggle with their approach to radical right extremists. What they learned from Waco was that a heavy-handed approach risks a major loss of life. Yet, allowing the antigovernment movement to flout the law at gunpoint is surely not the answer. The recent announce ment by Attorney General Eric Holder that the Justice Department is reviving its Domestic Terrorism Executive Committee is welcome news. The committee was established after the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing and was instrumental in bringing swift prosecutions that stemmed the tide of hardcore antigovernment activity; it should never have been allowed to become moribund after the 9/11 attacks. The militiamen and others who pointed their weapons at BLM and Las Vegas officers need to face criminal prosecution because the rule of law must be enforced or it will be challenged again. But swift prosecutions are only part of the answer. The Justice Department is a law enforcement agency, not an intelligence-gathering one. To help law enforcement at all levels, the Department of Homeland Security must put more resources into assessing the threat of non-Islamic domestic terrorism. The unit with the primary responsibility for that task was allowed to wither in the face of conservative criticism following the leak of a 2009 report on the resurgent threat from the far right. That, too, should never have been allowed to happen. Finally, politicians and media pundits need to be called out when they troll for votes or ratings with irresponsible rhetoric. The standoff at the Bundy ranch was news. But Cliven Bundy was certainly no hero. Treating him as such simply emboldens others like him. (excerpted from the introductory "Executive Summary," follow the link for considerable elaboration, context, history, and documentation)

Monday, July 21, 2014

Whiteness Always Thinks It Can Have Its Civilization and Eat It Too

It is hard to think what apart from racism reconciles the wingnut contempt for failed states with their work to make their own state fail.

More Dispatches from Libertopia here.

Sooper Intelligent Sooper Powers for Sooper Good!

Techno-transcendentalists really bring the idiocy to theodicy.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

"The Startup Guys" -- Still Stale, Still Pale, Still Male

Writes Sam Biddle: "This is Paul Graham, who dresses like your stepdad on a trip to the beach, speaking before a class of startup guys. These are The Startup Guys. Look upon my cargo pants, ye mighty, and despair." Setting aside the urge to laugh at the terrible clothes -- which are not exactly that terribly different from the way I dress at home on weekends when I am interested in comfort over presentability -- what I find notable about this image (which is roughly replicated in every Hackathon snap) is the dearth of women and people of color. Add a century to each of these dudes and you'd have a GOP town hall. These people are not only not The Future, this stale, pale, male spectacle is not even remotely The Present.

Via Valleywag

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Long Tail Tall Tale

In Salon, Spotify, Pandora and how streaming... kills jazz and classical [music]:
After years in which tech-company hype has drowned out most other voices, the frustration of musicians with the digital music world has begun to get a hearing... between low royalties, opaque payout rates, declining record sales and suspicion that the major labels have cut deals with the streamers that leave musicians out of the equation, anger from the music business’s artier edges is slowing growing. It’s further proof of the lie of the “long tail.” The shift to digital is also helping to isolate... already marginalized genres... “Back in the day, Fats Waller, and tons of other artists were robbed of their publishing. This is the new version of it, but on a much... wider scale.”
Of course, "The Long Tail" was just another tall tale by the skim and scam techno-blatherers. But it is important to grasp that this isn't a next internet generation re-iteration of the phenomenon Clay Shirky (another techno-blatherer, after all) enthused about, predicting -- wrongly -- that free amateur expressivity would provide content "good enough" to crash "much better" professional distribution demanding even vanishingly small cost. To the contrary, professional distribution is using the threat of Shirky-style Coasian-floor chestnuts as a thematic smokescreen behind which to engage in anti-competitive corporate consolidation and digital sharecropping. Once again, the "tech bloom" turns out to be a stink bomb, once again "spontanious order" turns out to be the consolidation of elite-incumbency, once again we are reminded that in the real world people die from exposure.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Life Imitates Veep

Paul Lewis of the Guardian bears witness to hijinks:
Scott Brown... did not want to talk about about Hobby Lobby, the recent supreme court decision critics argue will deny some women contraceptive care in their insurance plans. Brown, 54, is a former military colonel, lawyer and shirtless model turned Republican politician, who came to prominence when he unexpectedly won the Massachusetts Senate seat in 2009. After losing that seat three years later, Brown flirted, briefly, with running for president, before switching his allegiance to New Hampshire and, in an attempt to dispense with his reputation as a carpetbagger, taking to the road to meet voters. It is unclear if the strategy is working. A recent poll suggested the gap between Brown and his Democratic opponent -- incumbent senator Jeanne Shaheen -- has more than doubled since he announced his candidacy and began touring the state three months ago... I found Brown at a table at a restaurant called Priscilla's, introduced myself as a Guardian reporter and enquired if I could ask him some questions. Brown smiled nervously and replied: "What do you want to ask me about?" "Hobby Lobby? That would be a start," I said. “I’m all set," he replied. "We’re enjoying ourselves right now.” “But you’re standing for Senate. It is routine for journalists to ask you questions and usually the candidates answer.” “Not without notifying my office." Brown stood up, walked to the back of the diner, and took shelter in the bathroom. A campaign aide, Jeremy, looked bewildered. He lingered beside me for a few moments, before politely excusing himself -- “Nice to meet you” -- and joining his boss in the bathroom. I decided to wait in the parking lot for Team Brown to emerge into the sunlight. Four minutes later, a white SUV swung round and parked next to the steps of the diner. Brown came out with a phone pressed to his ear. "Get in! Get in!" said a campaign worker holding open the car door.
Still more evidence of that Republican Deep Bench the villagers keep insisting is there.

Damn Your Ground: Gun Zealot Castle Doctrine Predictably Increases Homicides Everywhere Without Decreasing Crime Anywhere

Dylan Scott reports at TPM:
Researchers at Georgia State and Texas A&M universities used different methodologies and data sources to reach their conclusions, but they ended up in the same place: More people are killed after these laws are passed. Researchers at Texas A&M University, for a study published in the Journal of Human Resources, concluded that homicides had increased by 8 percent in the more than 20 states that had passed "castle doctrine" laws, many of which include Stand Your Ground provisions. That equals 600 additional homicides every year in those states, they wrote. At the same time, however, the researchers found no detectable decrease in burglary, robbery or aggravated assault.
Act Surprised. Of course, gun-nuttery is rarely about self defense anyway, except in the sense of the ritual defense of threatened bearings of white racist patriarchal selfhood with gunmetal prosthetic cock compensating angst-shriveled peen or sociopathic indulgence in serial-killer wannabe revenge spree daydreams. It pays to remember that the You in "Stand Your Ground" is White, the Ground is America, and the legal standing of White Fears over Black Lives is clearly the Stand.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

CA Capital Punishment Ruling: Another Evil Idiot Tide Is Beginning to Turn

If you support the death penalty you support the inevitable execution of innocent citizens by the state in your name. If you don't support that result, you can't support capital punishment.

A federal judge in California has ruled today that the state’s death penalty is unconstitutional. Yes, a federal judge. This is good. Another evil idiot tide is beginning to turn.

We're Another Step Closer to Growing the Post Office Into Low-Cost Banking

David Dayen writes in Salon today about the improving prospects for a great idea I've written about wistfully here from time to time:
Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight Committee which oversees the Postal Service, previously called postal banking “unacceptable” and a “massive expansion” of government power. But now, the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee... finally held hearings for four nominees to the Postal Service Board of Governors... For most of the Obama Administration through to today, Republicans held a majority on this board thanks to multiple vacancies. But confirming these nominees would equalize the representation at four Democrats and four Republicans (the President still needs to nominate a replacement for an additional vacant seat, which would give Democrats the majority). This would put the pieces in place that could make postal banking a reality... Democratic nominee Vicki Kennedy -- Ted’s widow -- did say... “I think it also important to look at the possibility of expanding into related business lines,” and that the post office needed the “regulatory flexibility to take advantage of opportunity and innovate when it is in the public interest.” Postal banking serves that capacity... 1 in 4 American households with little or no access to financial services need a convenient, cheap banking option, so they don’t continue to get gouged by... payday lenders and check-cashing stores. Another Democratic nominee, Stephen Crawford, cited the Inspector General report on postal banking directly during questioning. “We see a lot of foreign postal services make some money on that,” Crawford correctly pointed out... “If I were on the board, that’s an area I would give special attention to.” ... Even more momentum comes today from a full-day conference in Washington on postal banking... Speakers include Sen. Elizabeth Warren, Issa and Postal Service Inspector General David Williams... The unbanked favored the post office making available prepaid debit cards by 38%-9%... And a large majority said they would be likely to use lower-cost versions of these services: 81% would go to the post office to cash checks, 79% to pay bills and 71% as an alternative to payday loans... “There’s a lot of interest if they can use postal services at a lower price point,” said Alex Horowitz, a researcher at the Pew Charitable Trusts... [B]y virtue of its universal service mandate, it has a network of 35,000 locations in every corner of the country. And where banks have not made the effort, the post office has significantly more reach, particularly in rural America... 3.5 million Americans live more than 10 miles from the nearest bank branch, and another 3 million live in densely populated areas that are nonetheless still over a mile from the nearest bank... Even in some urban locations, particularly in high-poverty areas, the closest postal branch location offers more convenience than the bank. And with bank closings more pronounced in low-income areas, the value of post offices as a financial services alternative could grow... Check-cashing stores and payday lenders... are ubiquitous in poor communities... But... low cost and convenience could give postal banking a leg up... Public outcry, largely from postal unions and their allies, has led to the Postal Service ending their pilot program of post office counters inside Staples, staffed by non-union workers at lower pay. [Grrrrrr! --d] The announcement came... after the American Federation of Teachers... voted to boycott Staples in solidarity with postal workers... [Yay, Unions! --d] Believers in postal banking have some high-profile support and some key facts. Now they need to organize and act... [T]here’s no reason the United States cannot respond to technological changes in mail volume by returning to offering financial services, which aligns with its core mission of promoting commerce. It certainly beats closing more distribution centers, firing more workers and squandering a vast network of physical and human capital that can serve some of the nation’s critical needs.
Republicans are endlessly attacking the post office and postal workers (as they attack every aspect of government that does conspicuous public good and maintains a good public reputation), and this is an idea which would make the beleaguered postal service more solvent and hence more insulated from these ideological anti-civilizational attacks. And it would do so while at once transforming the landscape of financial services for the working poor, both urban and rural, as well as providing a contrast of fair fees and good service that might begin to pressure the venal con-artists of big banking into better practices in these areas themselves. This is a good idea and it's time has come. Of course, even a Democratic majority on the Board is little likely to provide more than a pilot program, and the changes will likely take years, but the exploitation of people who work for a living by the payday lenders and cash card sharks is a problem years in the making, too, and a couple more Democratic terms in the White House can shepherd these processes into implementation while the Republicans howl and do their usual worst.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Does the "Jerktech" Hashtag Let Techbros And Libertechbrotarians Off the Hook?

The term "jerktech" and the critique associated with it has been proliferating quite a bit in the week since I noted Cory Doctorow noting it thus:
Jerktech is the very apt epithet for the class of "disruptive" startups that sell things that don't belong to them, like parking spots and restaurant reservations, simply raising the prices of them and making access to public resources a factor of your disposable income. The term comes from a very good Josh Constine piece on Techcruch, in which he tries to draw a distinction between "disruptive" and "jerky."
Of course I sympathize with the thrust of this critique as Doctorow put it so clearly there. But even when I approvingly read his piece the first time out, something about it worried me too much to post any pre-emptive approval here. "Jerktech" seems to me less to overlap with than to be a candidate for the replacement of the "techbro" moniker that would have designated the very same sort of techjerkoffery in months past. "Jerktech" critique seems to have greater specificity than "techbro" derision, but I suspect part of its appeal is its generalization away from the greater specificity of prior critiques that have become prevalent and have greater bite. I still prefer the language of the "techbro" and the "libertechbrotarian" to "jerktech" because I think the latter is evacuated of any whiff of the feminist and neoliberal critique that is usually (sure, sure, not always) somewhere between useful and indispensable to the grasp of what makes techjerkoffery jerktech in the first place. We may say that default sexist tech douchebaggery and Ayn Raelian techno-utopian skim-and-scam con-artistry qua "entrepreneurship" may make you a jerk, but that certainly shouldn't be the end of it. Josh Constine's more recent piece supporting "soft pivots" toward "disrupt[ing] with care" seems to me to symptomize the deficiency of "jerktech" as a critical intervention -- and reveals perhaps a penchant for "soft pivots" that also explains the turn from "techbro" to "jerktech" in the first place. As I indicated a few days back, "disruption, for real" would look a lot more like Richard Eskow's recent proposal to nationalize Big Tech.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Invisible Hand Is the Heavy Hand

Capitalism is always, like, talk to the invisible hand.

More Dispatches from Libertopia here.

Futurological Invasion Force

The Future is always a violent occupation of the present.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Still, Still, Still

And, yes, still grading, hence stillness for the blog, the endless succession of little placeholder tweets for posts, still, still, still.

Ecopocalypse Now

Climate change is already the end of the world for countless people on earth, and to displace climate catastrophe onto "The Future" is always first of all an ugly admission of indifference to suffering and death in the present.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Ghosts in the Machines

The priests of artificial intelligence offering up their digital confessions and performing their digital exorcisms will never ameliorate the work of software as a worldly instrument of terror.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Still Grading

In between lectures for my second intensive I'm still finishing up grading final papers for my first intensive. In case you were wondering. And loving life, obviously.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Today's Random Wilde

It is only the unimaginative who ever invent. The true artist is known by the use he makes of what he annexes, and he annexes everything.

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Disrupt, For Real: Richard Eskow Makes A Case for Nationalizing Big Tech

Salon:
[L]aw professor Susan Crawford argues that “high-speed wired Internet access is as basic to innovation, economic growth, social communication, and the country’s competitiveness as electricity was a century ago.” Broadband as a public utility? If not for corporate corruption of our political process, that would seem like an obvious solution. Instead, our nation’s wireless access is the slowest and costliest in the world. But why stop there? Policymakers have traditionally considered three elements when evaluating the need for a public utility: production, transmission, and distribution. Broadband is transmission. What about production and distribution? The Big Tech mega-corporations... were created with publicly-funded technologies, and prospered as the result of indulgent policies and lax oversight. They’ve achieved monopoly or near-monopoly status, are spying on us to an extent that’s unprecedented in human history, and have the potential to alter each and every one of our economic, political, social and cultural transactions... No matter how they spin it, these corporations were not created in garages or by inventive entrepreneurs. The core technology behind them is the Internet, a publicly-funded platform for which they pay no users’ fee. In fact, they do everything they can to avoid paying their taxes. Big Tech... operates in a technological “commons” which they are using solely for its own gain, without regard for the public interest. Meanwhile the United States government devotes considerable taxpayer resource to protecting them... Big Tech’s services have become a necessity in modern society. Businesses would be unable to participate in modern society without access... For individuals, these entities have become the public square... The bluntness with which Big Tech firms abuse their monopoly power is striking. Google has said that it will soon begin blocking YouTube videos... unless independent record labels sign deals with it... Amazon’s war on publishers... is another sign of Big Tech arrogance. But what is equally striking about these moves is the corporations’ disregard for basic customer service... Google is confident that even frustrated music fans have nowhere to go. Amazon is so confident of its dominance that it retaliated against Hachette by removing order buttons... and lied about the availability of Hachette books when a customer attempts to order one... Internet companies are using taxpayer-funded technology to make billions of dollars from the taxpayers –- without paying a licensing fee... Amazon was the beneficiary of tax exemptions which allowed it to reach its current monopolistic size. Google and the other technology companies have also benefited from tax policies and other forms of government indulgence. Contrary to popular misconception, Big Tech corporations aren’t solely the products of ingenuity and grit. Each has received, and continues to receive, a lot of government largesse... Most of Big Tech’s revenues come from the use of our personal information... Social media entries, web-surfing patterns, purchases, even our private and personal communications add value to these corporations. They don’t make money by selling us a product. We are the product, and we are sold to third parties for profit. Public utilities are often created when the resource being consumed isn’t a “commodity” in the traditional sense. “We” aren’t an ordinary resource. Like air and water, the value of our information is something that should be... at a minimum, publicly managed.... Privacy, like water or energy, is a public resource. As the Snowden revelations have taught us, all such resources are at constant risk of government abuse. The Supreme Court just banned warrantless searches of smartphones –- by law enforcement. Will we be granted similar protections from Big Tech corporations? ... Google tracks your activity and customizes search results, a process which can filter or distort your perception of the world around you. What’s more, this “personalized search results” feature leads you back to information sources you’ve used before... Over time this creates an increasingly narrow view of the world... Google has photographically mapped the entire world. It intends to put the world’s books into a privately-owned online library. It's launching balloons around the globe which will bring Internet access to remote areas –- on its terms... [T]hings are likely to get worse -- perhaps a lot worse -- unless something is done. The solution may lie with an old concept. It may be time to declare Big Tech a public utility.
I think these are strong arguments that should have a prominent place in public arguments about Big Tech. There are comparatively recent precedents for their applications in related fields, for the naysayers out there. Even if you judge the practical prospects for such policy outcomes unlikely, these arguments re-frame a host of "technology" issues in what seem to me incomparably more clarifying ways than the usual terms provide at present. And even our failure to nationalize equitable access to bandwidth, search and socializing tools as public utilities accountably administered for the common good need not be deemed a complete failure even on the terms of these arguments themselves, if instead they manage only to scare the shit out of enough greedy short-sighted self-congratulatory techbro skim-and-scam artists to make them actually behave themselves.

Monday, July 07, 2014

More to the Point

Futurology peddles SF's poetry as prophesy to profiteers for profit.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Poets Not Prophets

I blame the prevalence of futurology, that most debased and hyperbolic marketing discourse, for the way SF peddles personal preoccupations as prescience to no purpose.

Sunday, July 06, 2014

Techno-Passive-Aggressive

Using the term "technology," like using the passive voice, distracts attention from or disavows responsibility for actions of human beings.

More Futurological Brickbats here.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Grading

Deep in final papers this weekend, hence the lazy YouTube make-do posting procedures. On top of the dense buzzsaw of grading this mountain of papers and notebooks before a new term and a new intensive begins next week, I must admit that the blatantly reactionary misogynist decisions of our obscene Scrotal Supremes followed by the awful spectacle of racist yahoos in Southern California broadcasting their bile at already traumatized kids fleeing violence and persecution has made this a more than usually terrible week to be conscious.