blogging for michigan
michigan liberal
new deal 2.0
strange death of liberal america

joe bageant
blended purple
breaking ranks
critiques of libertarianism
death by car
divorce your car
fare-free michigan
'good communication skills'
occasional links & commentary
jack saturday
solidarity economy
trench coat exposed
ultimate superset
underclass rising

anarchist writers
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dead time pacifies
robert graham
ideas & action
institute for anarchist studies
poor richard
property is theft!
queering the singularity
spaces of hope
truth, reason & liberty

04 November 2009

More mixing board shenanigans at Clear Channel's WDTW AM

Said station is billed as "Detroit's progressive talk," which is fair enough, given that it is the local outlet for some fraction of Air America Radio's feed, about half even carried live, as well as Thom Hartmann live, Ed Schultz on 3-hour delay, and even, giving truth to the "Detroit" part of "Detroit's progressive talk," the locally-produced Fighting for Justice. The latter is paid-for content; technically an infomercial. This week (Nov. 1) at the appointed 10:00 AM time, right after the hourly (gag) CNN Radio News brake, we hear about a minute or so of Fox Sports Radio content, some chitter-chatter about football, it seems. Pre-emption of progressive talk programming by sports programming is par for the course on WDTW. Over the years this has been for live game coverage, as with the basketball team formerly known as the Detroit Shock, in past seasons the EMU football team, Oakland University men's basketball, currently U. of Toledo football, etc. These pre-emptions have always been handled in the crudest devisable manner; unannounced, often breaking in mid-sentence, and very often preceded by studio weirdities such as two concurrent streams in a 50-50 mix, minutes at a time of "dead air" (illegal under FCC rules, unless that too has been deregulated), muzak® or the generic equivalent replacing either commercial breaks or news breaks, and other forms of signal degradation one can only assume are meant to piss off the core "progressive talk" audience, or at least serve as a reminder that the progressive talk community is dependent on the imperious Clear Channel as distribution channel in many if not most markets. Lately, in addition to live sports coverage, there has been an increasing amount of sports talk, such as the NASCAR talk show that pre-empts the second hour of the Ron Reagan Show on Tuesdays, and a talk show boosting U. of T. football overwriting the first hour of the same program Monday nights. Last Thursday, they broke in with about a five minute snippet of the UT booster show over Reagan's show. Perhaps the sloppy audio editing is due to incompetence rather than contempt. It requires less suspension of disbelief, though, to imagine that a typical WDTW listener (who by now is of course conditioned to expect this sort of treatment), when hearing a sports pre-emption at the beginning of "regularly scheduled programming" to simply tune out on the assumption that the whole show has been bumped. This would make sense as a strategy of de-promotion of a radio program. Ed Schultz, for one, points out the difference between a local affiliate that promotes progressive content and one that simply puts it on the air for interested listeners to "discover." On the other hand, Clear Channel certainly uses WDTW to promote its "sister station," of course a sports-talk station, WDFN, "The Fan." This is fair game when done through the usual channels of commercial breaks, but 2-3 weeks ago, on the occasion of the premiere of yet another do-it-yourselfer or "honeydew" themed show over on WDTW, a half hour of that show was broadcast in a 50-50 audio mix with the first half hour of Free Thought Radio. My point here is, the not-so-subtle unprofessionalism in engineering at WDTW points in not-at-all-subtle editorial directions.

Ed Schultz and others have of course pointed out that broadcasting is a business, and that a talk show is best operated on a for-profit basis. I have no argument with that, as economic independence is a pre-requisite for editorial independence. It is necessary to point out, however, that editorial independence is likely as not the currency in which economic independence is paid for. There has been much discussion concerning what changes in FCC policy would best facilitate editorial diversity and independence. The equal-time provision of the long-defunct Fairness Doctrine comes up often, but with little support even among progressives given its bureaucratic division of airtime between both sides of the aisle, and the implicit assumption that there are exactly two sides to every issue. Challenging the oligopolistic nature of the media market via anti-trust laws is another idea that gets much airtime, but with little to no editorial contrast between the five or so major players in Big Media, what reason is there to believe that 10, 15 or 20 medium-large corporations would collectively be less dumbed-down, controversy-shy, or deferential to power? The relationship between a medium-small talk show operation or other content provider, and a medium-large radio network or holding company, would still be basically asymmetrical. The former would still need the latter more than the latter the former, and I think our audio traffic would still get shat upon in the various ways outlined above. For this reason I have more optimism about Thom Hartmann's strategy of distributing his show to nonprofit (including Pacifica!) stations, and Free Speech TV. The distribution of progressive content, like its creation, must become a bottom-up process. The change in broadcast rules that is really necessary is the lowering of the entry barriers to broadcast station ownership, especially for low-power stations. Even given a politically-unlikely (as in politically unfeasible) return of some spectrum to low-power broadcasters, it appears media other than Internet are a lost cause for non-commercial or controversial content. The advertising-driven business model of traditional media is simply too aggressive to allow for independent journalism, let alone critiques of the primacy of business in society. The Internet is probably the last hope for grass-roots communication. I am less optimistic about the Internet's potential for true grass-roots communications than I was when I first encountered it in the early 1990's--a much more "innocent" period in its development. Nevertheless, the entry cost of being "published" in some meaningful sense (at least until one manages to attract a substantial audience) is still effectively zero, even for someone not milking their site for ad revenues, and even server-side netizenship (self-hosting) is within reach of a typical upper middle class household, or even a thrifty lower middle class individual. So, I think net equity is a far more important issue than any of the issues surrounding incumbent (or traditional) media. The digital divide is also very real, and is something which must be addressed.

13 September 2009

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1 2 1
3 4 2
15 16 8
104 105 48
164 165 80
194 195 96
255 256 128
495 496 240
584 585 288
975 976 480
2204 2205 1008
2625 2626 1200
2834 2835 1296
3255 3256 1440
3705 3706 1728
5186 5187 2592
5187 5188 2592
10604 10605 4800
11715 11716 5600
13365 13366 6480
38804 38805 19008
39524 39525 19200
46215 46216 22464
48704 48705 24320
49215 49216 24576
49335 49336 21120
56864 56865 28416
57584 57585 27840
57645 57646 25920
64004 64005 32000
65535 65536 32768
73124 73125 36000
105524 105525 47520
107864 107865 52992
123824 123825 60480
131144 131145 59904
164175 164176 79200
184635 184636 89280
198315 198316 96768
214334 214335 103680
215775 215776 97920
256274 256275 126720
286995 286996 142272
307395 307396 142560
319275 319276 151200
347324 347325 168000
388245 388246 172800
397485 397486 190080
407924 407925 181440
415275 415276 188160
454124 454125 206400
491535 491536 237600
524432 524433 258048
525986 525987 261360
546272 546273 266112
568815 568816 279936
589407 589408 290304
679496 679497 336960
686985 686986 336960
840255 840256 397440
914175 914176 456960
936494 936495 427680
952575 952576 468480
983775 983776 483840
1025504 1025505 504576
1091684 1091685 483840
1231424 1231425 604800
1259642 1259643 604800
1276904 1276905 583680
1390724 1390725 635040
1405845 1405846 642528
1574727 1574728 768000
1659585 1659586 826560

Quotations with links

"I found out I would rather be a brat and take whatever I got than lose my identity. I learned that you could be screaming and begging and curled up in a corner, and still in your head be thinking about your next move. I learned that there was a part of you, if you could keep it for yourself, that would not listen to fear. I learned that if you got angry enough, nothing mattered anymore."--chaotic idealism

"It is far easier for employers and hucksters to ally with ISPs than it is for the little people to maintain the needed gossip flow. ISPs are employers and hucksters too."--Altoid

"The need for human labor is minuscule now, and most jobs are created merely to keep as many people off the streets as possible--not because their labor is needed, but so they can be credit-worthy consumers. Given our global material abundance and overcapacity, what we need now more than anything are consumers, not laborers, but we lack the imagination and will to create a system which accepts and deals fairly with this fact."--Jim Dator

"Imagine yourself having grown up using your fingerprint as proof of who you are, and giving it to every corporation that asks for it. What kind of person would you grow up into? Probably just a person who thinks that biometric scanning and the use of personal information by corporations is just the way things are. Let's turn it around... you have grown up in this world. You grew up in a world where various forms of institutions control your birth, education, work, leisure and death. Can you think of a single activity in your life that is not mediated by a corporation or institution?"--jason

"What would happen if we stopped compromising, stopped playing their game altogether and concentrated all our efforts on creating channels of our own for spreading ideas in new ways? "--CrimethInc

"One of my classmates said something the other day in regard to the march in Cincinnati entitiled 'Way of the Cross, Way of Justice' that I have been thinking about ever since. In effect her comment was 'Why march against poverty, who isn't against poverty?' But the first thing I said was 'if you need people to work for a dollar an hour so that you can sell your goods it is in your interest to have a destitute population from which to draw a work force.' Thus there may not be open advocation of poverty but support for a pure free market is really a hidden argument for social Darwinistic ideas that poverty is a necessary element of economic growth."--David Kowalski

"Have we gone from conspicuous consumption to conspicuous thrift, without going through humility and frugality along the way?"--Martin Laplante

"This rhetoric of liberation has led many a talented and idealistic young person to believe that coding, especially for free, is a political statement. In the guise of an anti-establishment, scrappy, can-do underdog attitude, [Lawrence Lessig], [Kevin Kelly] and their colleagues have created an environment in which well-intentioned people really believe that the commercialization of friendship by Facebook is a democratizing force, that it's progressive for technology entrepreneurs to make billions from the work of artists who get nothing, and that posting book reviews on Amazon and movie reviews on Amazon-owned IMDB is contributing to a public good. In which otherwise intelligent people believe that Google and Twitter are somehow morally different from Microsoft and Wal-Mart because their employees are younger and because they use phrases like 'radical transparency' without living up to them."--Tom S.

"A guest speaker in one of my classes many years ago made the observation that banks are for businesses and credit unions are for people."--boehmian rhapsody

"People that want leadership positions shouldn't have them."--The Meek

"I'm leaving the Democratic party if we don't get the public option. And if things keep getting worse I'll just quit voting altogether. Don't think for a second I'm the only one feeling this way, either. There's no point in fighting for people whose only promise is that you'll be less screwed under them than the Repugs."--djtyg

"Physical reality is coercive: there is only so much of any physical thing to go around. Complaining that one or another economic philosophy is 'coercive' is pointless."--The Raven

"In fact, the G8 leaders used current economic concerns to fail to agree on long-term [carbon reduction] goals. Faced with a choice of 'your money or your life,' our leaders have some pretty skewed priorities."--DJ

"Fuck off and die if you've got a problem with me being angry at oppression and oppressors!"--drakyn

"What fascinates me is the extent to which we have allowed the new media to eliminate the freedoms that we had, in the time of videotape, audio cassettes and early computer disks. True, copyright piracy is (generally) bad. But the bloody inconvenience and blithering incomprehensibility of simply using a modern DVD player to watch a film that you already own - let alone record an episode of NOVA - it is why I keep three VCRs in the house, still."--David Brin

"My experience with Alcoholics Anonymous has been that a lot of the people in the meetings smoke. If 12-Step is such a wonderful program and can keep you from drinking why don't these people us the same program to stop smoking?"--admin

"Moooving on ... I was hanging out in the university library the other day and found some cool stuff on teamwork. Now personally I am opposed to teamwork, because it involves other people and cannot be performed individually. However, I am in the MBA program, and teamwork is all the rage."--Christine

"The Revolutionary act is the orchestration of the disappearance of power. Power, like truth, is the empty place you must know how never to occupy, but that you must know how to produce so that others will be swallowed up in it; a strategy of intelligent subversion would also be to avoid aiming directly at power, but rather to force it into occupying the obscene position (power that insists on occupying this place, power that incarnates power, obscene and impure, and sooner or later collapses admist blood and ridicule) - force it into the position of absolute obviousness. For it is there that, mistaking itself for real, it falls into the imaginary - its there that it no longer exists to violate its own secret."--bioæsthetic

"That top 1% should be very afraid of those with nothing left to lose. Howard Hughes was probably smart rather than crazy."--Suzon

"And personally, I despise sales or any kind. Some people like it, some people don’t. I despise it. If I had to do any sales work of any kind, I would be on welfare. YOu don’t take a fish, put him on a bicycle and expect him to be thrilled."--Uppity Woman

14 July 2009

Quotations with links

"In a worldwide capitalist system, different nations contend against each other to furnish the most congenial environment for investors. This intends that low tax is coerced, and consequently low province spending. This successively intends that public goods will be underestimated, and because welfare programs are so expensive they would besides should be confined in ambit, and so inequality gets worse. As capitalism goes more globalised, and wealthiness can be transferred even more promptly at lower cost, this outcome is getting stronger and stronger, so that antecedently successful assorted economies are now fighting excessively, and are being squeezed to react to the demands of capital and trim tax and outlay."--audrafrancopr

"Speaking of econs, mdm khoo today said that she received scripts stating that babies are merit goods because, like education, the government thinks that it is not enough and encourages people to have more babies. And she proceeded to say that this means that all of us are merit goods then. The way she said it was damn funny. Haha!"--Luo Zhi Qin

"I don't believe in libertarians. To describe that group of eccentric right-wingers and misanthropic ranters as 'libertarians' is to aid them in their undeserved appropriation of a word that does not belong to them and does not describe the intellectual history of their so-called movement."--Adrian Bleifuss Prados

"On a global level, many...workers have barely been 'freed' from the land by the first steps of primitive accumulation before finding themselves 'freed' again by the diminishing opportunities for wage slavery in the official economy of capitalism. "--C. Alexander

"The upshot is that connectivity is privilege. Not a privilege that should be abolished or rolled back, but one that should nevertheless be constantly recognized, addressed and struggled with in our daily lives. Disequilibria in connectivity leads to compounded relative inequality and implicit power dynamics, but because connectivity is what animates altruism (which provides absolute advances for all) the egalitarian solution in any context is always to expand connectivity for all."--William Gillis

"I fear that the irony-free security-culture that has been fostered since 9/11 is far more dangerous to America's survival as a free society than any terrorists-with-bombs could ever be."--Trish

"...[F]reedom is not a matter of making a selection from a menu provided by others, and not augmented by the expedient of being provided ever more items on the menu from which to make a selection."--Dale Carrico

"One thing about the 'rugged individual' paradigm is that it's bred & fed by a preoccupation with competition. Our culture is Way over the top in this particular proclivity- small towns, big towns, the countryside- it doesn't matter. Competition is great- but when 'it's the ONLY thing' (to paraphrase Vince Lombardi), without grounding, without balance, we're in trouble- because curiosity will be channeled into 'self-serving-ness' (or what Mr. Raban referred to as 'narcissism'). We lose by devaluing, dismissing, or even deriding Cooperation- in a number of ways and venues. However, ultimately it's Cooperation that builds communities; and Competition that fills prisons (when combined with the eternal pitch of 'Having = Being' aka 'go shopping- & everything will be alright)... ^..^"--Herbert Browne

"And, the last time I visited my local stationery store (to buy the supplies I needed to feed my own shameful paper habit), I discovered that the cost of recycled paper was actually 10-30% more than standard paper! I steadfastly bought the more expensive recycled pack, and when I got home, I made sure to hug my favourite trees, telling them what I went through on their behalf (they were not very sympathetic)."--Theo Bromine





We were born before television, before penicillin, before polio shots, frozen foods, Xerox, plastic, contact lenses, Frisbees and the Pill.

We were born after Hiroshima, after Joe McCarthy and J. Edgar Hoover, born since the end of the age of fresh foods, virgin forests and real jobs.

We were born before radar, credit cards, split atoms, laser beams and ball-point pens, before panty hose, dishwashers, clothes dryers, electric blankets, air conditioners, drip-dry clothes...and before man walked on the moon.

We came after capital flight, outsourcing, downsizing and consolidation.

We got married first and then lived together. How quaint can you be?

We got our first, second, third and fourth jobs and then left the nest. How long can it take?

In our time, closets were for clothes, not for "coming out of." Bunnies were small rabbits and rabbits were not Volkswagens. "Designer Jeans" were scheming girls named Jean (with the affectation JEANNE), and having a "meaningful relationship" meant getting along well with our cousins.

In our time, closets are for clothes, not people. Bunnies, rabbits and small Volkswagens are endangered species. Designer Jeans cost a week's pay and having a meaningful relationship means seeing each other at least once a month.

We thought "fast food" was that you ate during Lent, and Outer Space was the back of the Milliwald Theatre.

"Fast food" is what you eat during the commute between two of your three part-time jobs and what you serve to customers in the other one. Outer Space is where our tax dollars go.

We were before house-husbands, gay rights, computer dating, dual careers and commuter marriages. We were before day-care centers, group therapy and nursing homes. We never heard of FM radio, tape decks, electric typewriters, artificial hearts, word processors, yogurt and guys wearing earrings. For us "time sharing" meant togetherness...not computers or condominiums...a "chip" meant a piece of wood, "hardware" meant hardware and "software" wasn't even a word.

We came well after loyalty oaths, segregated diners, the peacetime draft and shotgun weddings. After sanitariums, shock therapy and poor houses. We'd never be caught dead listening to AM radio. We've never heard of fountain pens, iron lungs, spittoons and guys wearing spats. For us, "condominium" means another rental housing option gentrified out of our reach. Hardware and software can probably do our jobs better than we can.

In 1940, "MADE IN JAPAN" meant JUNK and the term "making out" referred to how you did on your exam. Pizzas, McDonald's and instant coffee were unheard of.

In 1980, "MADE IN USA" meant you paid more than you had to so your trade unionist neighbors wouldn't hate your guts. Coca Cola, cat food, coffee and cookies are the four basic food groups.

We hit the scene when there were 5 & 10¢ stores like Newberrys where you bought things for five and ten cents! Umbergers sold ice cream cones for a nickel or a scoop for a nickel, two scoops for a dime AND your choice of a hard or soft cone. "For one nickel" you could ride a street car, make a phone call, buy a Pepsi, it had 16 oz. in a bottle, too, or enough stamps to mail one letter and two postcards. You could by a new Chevy Coupe for $600, but who could afford one! What a pity too, because gas was 11¢ a gallon.

We hit the scene long since the corner 5 and dime was driven out of business by Wal-Mart. All the jobs are temp or part time or both. You could buy a Hyundai for aroud 15 grand, if you've had a full time job for ten years and haven't fallen behind on your student loan payments. What a pity too, because help-wanted ads read "must have own reliable transportation."

In our day, cigarette smoking was fashionable, GRASS was mowed, COKE was a cold drink, CRACK was something you didn't step on for fear you'd break your mother's back, and POT was something you cooked in. ROCK MUSIC was Grandma's lullaby and AIDS were helpers in the Principal's office.

In our day, cigarette smoking is pushing health care costs out of our reach, GRASS is watered by ChemLawn, COKE it IT, CRACK is cheaper than pot, and possession of even the minutest amount of POT can get all your property confiscated without due process. ROCK MUSIC sold out to Madison Avenue years ago. God help you if you get AIDS; it's the quickest way to get shunned from a so-called community since leprosy.

We were certainly not before the difference between the sexes was discovered, BUT we were surely before the sex change...we made do with what we had. And we were the last generation that was so dumb as to think you needed a husband to have a baby!

Obviously the commandment to "be fruitful and multiply" was fulfilled by the time we got here. We can somehow make do with only 6 billion neighbors. We probably won't be the last generation to think you don't have to have a baby to have a purpose in life.

No wonder we are so confused...or should I say amused...that there is such a generation gap today!

Did someone say something about a generation gap? We're bracing ourselves for generational warfare!



Author unknown

Authors: Josephine Michelle Draus and Lorraine Lee

02 May 2009

Quotations with links

"Competition among individuals and even individual cultures, in order to empower a broader base to a unified multicultural society, goes too far when dominance over the other individual or individual cultures degrades and demeans our very existence."--Ed

"A Website that can't be viewed with Lynx is a Web site not worth visiting."--Jurily

"I do so love the fact that I have the right to buy the Uncola from the same company that makes Cola! It makes me feel so different and such a non-conformist! Lord, what freedom of choice we enjoy in this land of liberty!"--Dennis Loo

"I once investigated for this blog if any of those factories where Mr. Rogers once showed kids how things were made were still in business. The results were just too depressing to share."--jdg

"Introversion is simply a culturally disliked way of life; and mental illness shouldn't be defined by culture."--chaotic idealism

"We've already voluntarily given up huge amounts of privacy, and the sky hasn't fallen in. What is needed is for parties other than ordinary citizens to lose more of their privacy."--Nicholas Wilt

"in other words, anarchists are not just trying to equal the playing field, we're trying to change ... the maimed character structures of people. living in this fucked up world for so long, we're miserable on the inside, so we do things to hurt each other. this is one major reason anarchists have specifically sought out all forms of authority and hierarchy, (like racism, sexism, or homophobia) not just the big 3 (state, capital, religion)"--xveganx

"Of course, mandatory [drug] testing means that everyone is a suspect, and everyone must submit. Aren't these the same right-wingers who are complaining loudly that Obama's supposed 'socialism' is all about taking away our rights and enslaving us in a totalitarian state?"--David Neiwert

"Iceland didn't break capitalism. Capitalism broke Iceland."--Lindsay Beyerstein

"Hyper-individualism - the adjunct of neoliberal corporatism that isolates us from one another as market agents to the benefit of global capitalism - accidentally led us into thinking that 'aloneness' was a virtue. We've psychologically detached ourselves from one another and fiscally and physically eviscerated the public realm."--Mike Soron

"This tension is the strongest, the most unbearable, there where professional practice already bears within itself the possibility and the demand for this categorical break, but is at the same time constrained to make a practice located beyond relations of value pass through the needle's eye of valorisation; where, in other words, we are forced to 'promote' ourselves, that is to commoditize and sell ourselves to live, even though our activity brings us to oppose the constraints of self-promotion experienced as a mutilation."--André Gorz

07 March 2009

Transparency, reciprocal accountability and ideology

First, I would like to direct the reader's attention to Nicholas Wilt's Overview in his apparently defunct blog Transparent Century. The subject matter is dear to my heart, and I hope blogging will resume there.

First, I would like to comment on the tone of the post. It's not so subtly stated that the author is of the view that the private sector is always the lesser evil:

Such government-arbitrated surveillance seems to arouse more concern than the data-gathering done by companies. This concern is well-founded, given well-documented abuses of surveillance powers by the government.

I'm of the view that that may be the case, but I'm also of the view that the private sector is more powerful (in the de facto sense) than is the public sector. I view business surveillance and government surveillance with equal amounts of fear and loathing.

As is pointed out, spying back has already begun:

While questions about these policies are debated by the Congress and considered by the courts, we citizens are left with a world where pervasive surveillance is the norm and it looks like it will stay that way. Companies and the government spy on us, and expect us to tolerate it. What can we do about it? One option: spy back. This sounds silly until you consider that the process has already begun. Another option: demand reciprocal transparency, not only from the companies we do business with, but from our representatives in government.

The most publicized of these efforts has been something called sousveillance. So far this seems to consist mostly of video sousveillance, which is well and good, but I'd like to see some sousveillance in the form of data mining, which looks to me to be the spookiest of the information technologies.

Yet since 9/11, we have been asked to give up even more privacy: the Bush Administration has pioneered novel spying tactics ("warrantless wiretapping"), justifying them with novel legal theories. Additionally, and disturbingly, the government has issued subpoenas to companies to compel them to share proprietary company data (such as search engine data), ostensibly for counterterrorism purposes.

I suggest that the best way to deal with the sceptre of the government "compelling" the search engines to "share" "proprietary" data for "counterterrorism" purposes, is to build a nonproprietary search engine. (Yes, they are intended as scare quotes) I would submit that privacy (what's left of it, anyway) applies to individuals, not institutions. Privacy is to individuals as secrecy is to institutions. The generic term which includes both privacy and secrecy is "confidentiality." Saying the government is receiving confidential data has an entirely different tone from saying the government is receiving proprietary data.

It is not my intent here to contrast Wilt's apparently libertarian take on the issue with my anti-authoritarian one. I am in enthusiastic agreement that "[w]hat is needed is for parties other than ordinary citizens to lose more of their privacy," and I am interested in participating in any way I can in helping to engineer such a detournement.

Now, consider Symmetrical and Asymmetrical Technologies at Kevin Kelly's Technion:

Very large computers that can mine trivial everyday data for patterns is one example. Here the inherent imbalance between the level of knowledge available creates uncertainty, fear, and resentment. If asymmetrical technologies advance and spread, those less in-the-know will rebel, avoid it, sabotage, or subvert them. But symmetry can be restored with better technologies that embrace reciprocal information. We can watch the watchers and as we watch, others watch us.

To put it personally, I am comfortable with having my movements tracked, my habits databased in aggregate, and my tastes networked IF -- BIG IF:

1) I know what information is being collected, where and why, and by whom
2) I assent to it either implicitly or explicitly, and I am aware of it
3) I have access to correct it, and can use the data myself
4) I get some benefit for doing so (recommendations, collaborative filtering, or economic payment)

Right now, I go along with a technology if I can get 3 out of 4 of these demands. If these four conditions are met I am happy to have my everything monitored. Throw in some payments, or freebies and you can watch my boring life all you want. But remove those conditions and I am outraged. I find governmental surveillance particularly wicked because it meets none of those conditions.

Do to the boilerplate nature of B2C (business-to-consumer) relationships, I go along with technologies pretty much without question, but begrudgingly. As Wilt says:

Consider for a moment that whenever we buy gas, enter a bank, gamble at a casino, withdraw money from an ATM, or go shopping, we are subjected to surveillance by the business we are buying from. For the most part, a consensus has developed that this surveillance is benign. Legitimate customers recognize that businesses use surveillance to frustrate activities that they do not wish to subsidize (drive-aways, bank theft, cheating at gambling, larceny), so they are willing to tolerate surveillance by the business. Furthermore, if there were a market opportunity for businesses that did not employ surveillance in this way - the "gas station that doesn't spy on its customers" or "Wal-Mart with no surveillance" - some business would have exploited it by now. That hasn't happened.

I'm not convinced that the reason non-surveillance isn't touted as a selling point is because of a perception that surveillance is benign, and there is definitely not a consensus to that effect. The real reason appears to be that the opportunities to profit from data mining outweigh the opportunities to profit from offering informational privacy (or symmetry) as a "value added" (or should I say "value not subtracted"?) proposition. After all the Kroger supermarket chain offers you the opportunity to buy merchandise without the behavior-tracking "Plus Card," with the only catch being that you pay the "regular" price, which is consistently above the going rate.

To go along with a technology without reservations, I would make only one demand: That I am allowed to make queries against the data. Ideally this means all the data. The obvious implication of this, of course, is that nobody has any privacy whatsoever, a situation I fear far less than database asymmetry. Minimally, I feel entitled to undiluted query and bulk-download access to all data points generated by me. The greatest informational insult, as I see it, is a GPS receiver, debit card, set-top box (e.g. from the kable kompany), website account or other "personal" technological product that transmits a conveniently machine-readable stream of raw data to which I am not privy. The defining feature, as I see it of a "better technology that embraces reciprocal information" is simply a serial port.

Returning to the Kroger Plus Card: It is clearly a powerful tool in identifying statistical clusters within the shopping public. The public relations spin on customer loyalty cards is that they enhance customer service by anticipating customer needs. There is obviously some truth to this, but is a store that knows instinctively what you're looking for really the best store for you? Consider your experience (my typical experience, anyway) as a job applicant. Does the company really want the applicant pool to have a detailed knowledge of what exactly it is they're looking for? Sure, if there's a public posting of the opening, it details what's required, what's a "plus," and paints a picture of the ideal candidate. But listen to the candidates speculate among themselves in the waiting room, and it becomes clear that much information is a mystery. How heavily will various factors be weighted? What is the applicant-to-opening ratio? It's no mystery that the company wants the particulars to be a mystery to the applicants. After all, an applicant who knows the employer's selection criteria in explicit detail will game the system, right? Likewise, if it seems a retail establishment knows me intimately, has me "figured out," so to speak, I feel disempowered. I feel more "competed over" if it appears I'm "keeping them guessing" as to how best to make the sale.

When applying for jobs, I'm often asked to waive away all sorts of personal privacy rights concerning everything from consumer credit history to bodily fluids. The stock libertarian response to the individual as job applicant or as grocery shopper is the same old trope: "Nobody's holding a gun to your head." The common thread as I see it is that both situations arise out of relationships between institutions (in these examples, businesses) and individuals. My own experiences with (actually existing) "capitalism" have been mostly disempowering in one way or another, and my ideological preference is to draw the battle lines between individuals and institutions, not between the private sector and the public sector. That being said, I think much can be accomplished with ad hoc alliances between libertarians and anti-authoritarians of a more or less anticapitalist tendency, at least when it comes to wresting symmetry from the technion (if I may call it that).

Wresting anything, when one is the low element in any kind of power matrix, is akin to "belling the cat." I am very skeptical of the proposition that symmetry can be accomplished by requesting or demanding policy changes from institutions, or adoption of open source technologies by the same. The real issue here is open content, not open source, although I would certainly agree that transparency and symmetry require both. Symmetry, like freedom, is taken, not given.

08 February 2009

The common people as commons

People who appeal to the laws of economics with visible glee also
love conjuring up derivations illustrating what they call the
tragedy of the commons. The punch line is that there ain't no such
thing as a free goods, and the theorem being derived is that
so-called free goods or public goods are an inherently flawed
concept thanks to the free rider problem. It is always with
magnificent glee that free market fundamentalists announce that
human nature is inherently selfish.

People who see the world through commoners' eyes are basically
bimodal economic actors. They are worker/consumers. They typically
earn their daily bread one place and pay for it in numerous places.
This is, of course, an improvement over the “company store”
concept, which featured monopsony and monopoly all under one roof.
To the worker/consumer, to the proverbial common man or woman, it
goes without saying that some things figure prominently on the radar
screen. One of these things is the uncanny link in the business news
between mass layoffs and increases in share price.

It would seem that from the commanding heights of management, the
worker/consumers working in one's own firm are the glaring
cost center, while the worker/consumers in the consumer marketplace
as a whole are ultimately the only profit center, even in
business-to-business business. Perhaps everyone's interests would be
advanced by the development of an ethos that regards the commoners
as a commons, with the implied understanding that mass layoff events
are akin to someone pissing in the well.

Public policymakers are absolutely duty-bound to advance the idea
that all of us have a vested interest in full employment. In this
spirit, we need a much less dumbed-down definition of full
employment. I want to see employment-to-population ratio replace the
hedonic indexing that incorporates social fictions such as
“discouraged workers.”

Calling for a general boycott

General boycott is to boycott as general strike is to strike. The
strike weapon packs little punch in a relatively high wage country
such as the United States. The American worker/consumer qua
worker is expendable. The American worker/consumer qua
consumer is apparently a large part of what's propping up the global
economy. The global business community appears to be boycotting
American labor, and probably “developed world” labor in

The self-respecting thing for developed world citizens to do at a
time like this is voluntary austerity. Draw an aggressive line
between luxuries and necessities. Make a competitive sport of doing
without. Undertake the advanced study of the art and science of
cheap living. This should help begin to address our
way-above-average carbon footprint, as well as giving the business
and political classes a taste of their own medicine in the form of
spending cuts.

Consumer debt is another means of social control which must be
challenged. Much better to discharge the debt ASAP and get the
monkey off one's back than to enable GDP addiction. The goal should
be to tank the GDP. Be sure to turn off the light before you leave
the room.

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