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Paper Books Can’t Be Shut Off from Afar – Popula
[See also (referenced within):
"Microsoft is about to shut off its ebook DRM servers: "The books will stop working"" ]

“Private ownership—in particular the private ownership of books, software, music and other cultural information—is the linchpin of a free society. Having many copies of works of art, music and literature distributed widely (e.g., many copies of the same book among many private owners, or many copies of the same audio files, torrents or blockchain ledger entries on many private computers) protects a culture against corruption and censorship. Decentralization strategies like these help to preserve press freedom, and individual freedom. The widespread private ownership of cultural artifacts guarantees civil liberties, and draws people into their culture immanently, persistently, giving it life and power.

Cory Doctorow’s comment on Friday at BoingBoing regarding private ownership of books is well worth reading; he wrote it because Microsoft is shutting down its e-books service, and all the DRM books people bought from them will thus vanish into thin air. Microsoft will provide refunds to those affected, but that isn’t remotely the point. The point is that all their users’ books are to be shut off with a single poof! on Microsoft’s say-so. That is a button that nobody, no corporation and no government agency, should be ever permitted to have.

“The idea that the books I buy can be relegated to some kind of fucking software license is the most grotesque and awful thing I can imagine,” Doctorow said.

At this very moment, governments are forbidding millions of people, Chinese people, Cubans, Belarusians and Egyptians and Hungarians and many, many others all over this world, from reading whatever they want.

So if there is to be a fear of the increasing adoption of e-books such as those offered by Microsoft, and to a far greater degree, Amazon, that’s by far the scariest thing about it. Because if you were to keep all your books in a remotely controlled place, some villain really could come along one day and pretty much flip the switch and take them all away — and not just yours but everyone’s, all at once. What if we had some species of Trump deciding to take action against the despicable, dangerous pointy-heads he is forever railing against?

Boom! Nothing left to read but The Art of the Deal.

I don’t intend on shutting up about this ever, and I’m sure Doctorow won’t either, bless him.”
mariabustillos  books  print  drm  decentralization  2019  microsoft  kindle  china  cuba  belarus  egypt  hungary  censorship  totalitarianism  georgeorwell  society  freedom  corporations  ip  intellectualproperty  ownership  ebooks  libery  power  culture  corydoctorow 
july 2019 by robertogreco
Luxury Interiors – Popula
"The question of “U.S.C. versus A.S.U.” in this piece was unclear to me; to what extent was Hess underwriting this hierarchy? I wrote to ask her, and she replied that she wished she’d had the space to elaborate in the piece. And for good reason:
I’m from a Sun Devil family. My mom worked at Arizona State… I don’t think any of the jokes about ASU are based on a real understanding of the kind of education you could receive there; it’s based on the number of people who can access that education […]

The same people who surely believe that every child should have access to a college education also make sure to rank some of those educations as enviable and others as embarrassing. The idea of an elite, high-class education must be hoarded by a select few, because if everybody had it, it would lose its value to the elite.

Which just begins to explain why someone like Mossimo Giannulli might want to be able to say, “my daughter is at U.S.C.”


When people are willing to drown themselves in debt and even commit literal crimes in order to obtain an elite college education for themselves or their kids, what, really, what exactly, do they they think they are buying?

Or selling. What are people thinking, who are selling an “education” that is actively harming a whole society; that wrecks the fabric of a city, that causes people to lose their grip on their conscience, their sanity; that makes them set so catastrophic an example, somehow both before, and on behalf of, their children. All this makes a mockery of the Enlightenment values—by which I mean the egalitarianism and erudition of Alexander Pope, and not Edmund Burke getting himself in a lather over Marie Antoinette—that a Western education was once imagined to represent.

Reaction to the admissions scandal has so far centered on these rich parents and their unworthy spawn, whose lawyers now prepare to spin a tale of misguided, but forgivable, parental devotion. No less a cultural authority than the playwright David Mamet wrote an “open letter” defending accused admissions cheat Felicity Huffman; according to him, “a parent’s zeal for her children’s future may have overcome her better judgment for a moment.” Except that the “moment” went on for months, according to court filings, and involved Huffman’s paying $15,000 to ensure that her daughter would have twice the time to complete her SAT exam that an ordinary, non-bribery-enabled kid would have. Also to hire a crooked proctor afterwards, who could change some of her daughter’s wrong answers to correct ones.

In any case, Hess is right: You can get an ultrafine education at A.S.U. That place is an R1 university, positively bristling with Nobel laureates and MacArthur fellows. Walter V. Robinson, who led the famous “Spotlight” newsroom at the Boston Globe, teaches there. It’s wild to think anyone would be willing to blow half a million dollars to ensure an admission to U.S.C. over A.S.U.

Anyone who has been to (any) college can tell you that the proportion of enlightenment to hangovers varies greatly from customer to customer. It’s something else altogether that calls for the half-million bucks.


Coming from a quite different angle—and on March 27th, the very same day as Hess’s piece—Herb Childress, in the Chronicle of Higher Education, asked: “How did we decide that professors don’t deserve job security or a decent salary?” (“This is How You Kill a Profession.”) Childress is one of tens of thousands of Ph.D.s in the United States who failed to find a place on the tenure track, and who were slowly forced out of a professional academic career as their prospects faded year by year in the academic Hunger Games, as this brutal process is not uncommonly described.

You might assume that people like Childress just “didn’t make it” through some fault of their own, but you’d be wrong. Over the last fifty years academic work has come to look more and more like indentured servitude: Grad students and postdocs are a species of flexible workers in a gig economy, toiling in low-paying jobs waiting for their once-a-year chance to play the tenure track lottery.

Please note that these are the very people who work in the “good schools,” who are compelled to “teach,” for insanely low pay—like, a few thousand dollars per class—people like Mossimo Giannulli’s daughter Olivia Jade, a famous YouTube “Influencer.” This lady’s dad paid hundreds of thousands to put her in the orbit of hugely educated, committed, job-insecure people like Childress. She, meanwhile, impishly bragged to her legion of YouTube followers that she doesn’t really “care about school.”

And yet scholars like Childress can’t let go of their romantic notions of the academy, and their sense of vocation, which can easily be exploited; unfortunately they’ll agree to live the dream even at cut rates, as Childress himself openly admitted in the Chron.
The grief of not finding a home in higher ed—of having done everything as well as I was capable of doing, and having it not pan out; of being told over and over how well I was doing and how much my contributions mattered, even as the prize was withheld—consumed more than a decade. It affected my physical health. It affected my mental health. It ended my first marriage. […]

Like any addict, I have to be vigilant whenever higher ed calls again. I know what it means to be a member of that cult, to believe in the face of all evidence, to persevere, to serve. I know what it means to take a 50-percent pay cut and move across the country to be allowed back inside the academy as a postdoc after six years in the secular professions. To be grateful to give up a career, to give up economic comfort, in order to once again be a member.

Consider the benefits-free, pension-free pittance paid to the vast majority of people providing the elite education, who never saw a dime of all those millions in bribes, and a more complicated and larger picture than we’ve yet seen emerges."

"I wasn’t nearly as much of a paragon, but as a brown-trash “gifted” kid who came up poor and went to fancy schools I can easily understand how listening to this brilliant lecturer dazzled my friend, and changed the course of his life. This feeling comes to students anywhere, everywhere, in every school with a good teacher with time and attention to give us. There was and still is something vital, something good and real, to want out of an “education,” something quite beyond the ken of the kind of people who would pay an SAT proctor to cheat.

Then there’s this other angle. I first went off to college already inured to the idea that I was involved in an economy; that we were trading. Everything had been made easier for the rich kids, of course, and it wasn’t their fault, all had been bought and paid for by their parents and grandparents, but also—a crucial thing—they had also lacked our luck; they lacked certain desirable qualities, qualities as randomly distributed as wealth, things with which some of us had won a different lottery, had skipped grades with and been celebrated for: the sort of “intelligence” that made school easy. There seemed to be a natural symbiosis in this structure, crazy and shameful as the whole business of “meritocracy” appears to me now.

But also like all college kids we mainly didn’t give a fuck about any of that and just got to be friends for true reasons, just loved one another. The rich kids happened to be able to teach the poor ones what fork to use and how to ski, and the poor and/or brown kids of halfway reasonable intelligence gave them books, new kinds of food and family, music and art, a view of the other side of the tracks, new ways to have fun. We poor ones brought, say, a taste for Lester Bangs, arroz con pollo, Brian Eno and Virginia Woolf; they treated us to foie gras and Tahoe and big old California cabs on our 18th birthday. Gross, right? Really gross. But the (grotesquely mistaken) idea was that we were bringing each other into a better world, a different world, and a little at a time the true, good world would finally come.

This may sound a bit tinfoil but now I suspect that the problem may have been, all along, that all the college kids started to realize together (as I think they are still) that there was something sick at the roots of this tree of knowledge as it was then constituted. Strangely, dangerously healing, egalitarian ideas began to take hold; demographics changed, and the country began to move to the left. The 90s was the era of the tenured radical on campus, and the culture wars grew white-hot. Al Gore was elected president, and was prevented by the merest whisker from taking office. Even a barely left of center President Gore would have made things a little too parlous for the powers that be, who are on the same side as the Giannullis of the world.

Hess told me that some people think there’s one kind of education within the purview of everyone willing to work to get it, the “embarrassing” kind, and then there’s another kind that is luxury goods, strictly for “elites” from “elite” institutions—however corrupt the latter may be—served tableside by an underpaid servant class.

But the egalitarian view of education and the luxury view are mutually exclusive. Pulling up the drawbridge around your ivory tower only cuts it off from the global commons, which alone can provide the intellectual atmosphere in which a free society, and its academy, can breathe and thrive. Power wants its “meritocracy”: thus the eternal cake-having rhetoric around higher education, the queasy mingling of “exclusivity” and “diversity.”

Note too that the ruling class protects its interests as starkly on the fake left of the centrist Democrats as it does on the right, where the Koch brothers have long bought professors like they were so many cups of coffee. In Jacobin, Liza Featherstone’s … [more]
education  elitism  highered  highereducation  2019  mariabustillos  culture  society  smartness  petebuttigieg  operationvaristyblues  meritocracy  us  capitalism  competition  scarcity  lizafeatherstone  donaldtrump  centrism  herbchildress  academia  colleges  universities  rankings  admissions 
april 2019 by robertogreco
Pascal’s Climate – Popula
"For a decade or more there has been a cottage industry in telling people that individual action is meaningless in the face of the overwhelming force of climate change. Plane rides don’t matter, eating meat doesn’t matter; 100 companies are causing 71% of the emissions and it is they who are the problem; only governments acting in concert have the remotest chance of arresting the disaster. And so on.

One of the most influential of these arguments, with 328,677 shares at the time of writing, is a much-quoted 2017 Guardian piece by Martin Lukacs, who wrote, “Stop obsessing with how personally green you live–and start collectively taking on corporate power.”

“While we busy ourselves greening our personal lives,” he added, “fossil fuel corporations are rendering these efforts irrelevant. The breakdown of carbon emissions since 1988? A hundred companies alone are responsible for an astonishing 71%. You tinker with those pens or that panel; they go on torching the planet.”

While I sympathize with Lukacs’s desire to rein in the energy oligarchs, he and other anti-individualists, like Eric Levitz in last week’s Intelligencer, are dead wrong that individual action doesn’t count.

The 71% of emissions that 100 companies are responsible for are producing?? They are mainly the result of extracting and refining fossil fuels that individuals are using for flying and driving and importing bottled water from glaciers and plastic bird feeders from China. Economic questions of supply and demand are far more salient to the matter of emissions than is any aspect of political will.

Human activity is interconnected. When the breakneck demand for these things ends–as indeed it must and will, either in time, or too late–there will no longer be a market for what the energy oligarchs are selling. From a purely logical economic perspective, it’s the only real way to stop them.

Let’s have a look at this remark of Lukacs’s again.

“Collectively taking on corporate power” is just exactly what will happen when millions of individuals stop flying on airplanes, which, again, is a thing that has to happen in order for the planet to survive. Whether through a global individual cap and trade program or simply because individual people collectively realize, together, that they are dooming the Earth and had better drive to their next holiday, is entirely immaterial. Though even a casual witness to the abject stupidity of the world’s politicians must surely suspect that the latter course has better chances.

In any case, the bigger problem with the anti-individualist stance to taking collective action is an even simpler one. There is no way to achieve collective action without individual action. Collective action doesn’t fall off a tree, it is made up of countless individual acts that turn into conversations, writings, meetings, plans. Individual actions are the only material from which collective action can be made, and to suggest that individuals are helpless and somehow just don’t matter now, in the current emergency, at a time of rising confusion, anger, hopelessness and dread, is nothing short of enraging.

[image: The most effective individual steps to tackle climate change ]

In the Intelligencer, Levitz writes: “With climate change, the pointlessness of individual action is especially acute. If you accept the scientific consensus on warming, then you know your personal carbon footprint is a drop in the rising sea. So, why on earth would you feel compelled to lower your quality of life for the sake of cutting carbon emissions by a wholly negligible amount?”

What even?

Why would you even consider dialing back your own special role in destroying the planet? Why not go vacation in Tulum, while you’re at it, why not go befoul The Beach, you saw it in a movie?

It is high time for an end to the nihilist bullshit that is telling the public it doesn’t matter whether or not they eat meat or fly in airplanes. It does. Not least because even a small chance to contribute to a better possible future gives life and work meaning and value—conceivably, maybe, even more value than just obediently swallowing down your consumerist “quality of life,” spoon-fed to you by the loving algorithms of the surveillance state.

A less lemming-like, suicidal, self-loathing, murderous society would just plain say the obvious: every decision matters, in a time of crisis. Individual, collective, political, business: human life is a single gigantic machine of endless complexity, working every second on innumerable levels, and every iota of the machine involves a responsibility to society and to the future.

So if the planet is to survive the effects of human stupidity and shortsightedness—which question, admittedly, does incline the rational mind to pessimism, but still—and if every single decision counts: Why not take the Pascal’s Wager position? Why not act as if success, as if a good surprise, were possible?

In the Oxford philosophical journal The Monist of July 2011 (Vol. 94, No. 3, “Morality and Climate Change”) Avram Hiller’s (really excellent) article “Climate Change and Individual Responsibility” [JSTOR] applied a philosophical and moral lens to these questions. Hiller gives five conjectures “as to why people erroneously do not believe that individual actions have much or any effects” on climate change. They include the “Nero’s Fiddle” effect, which is like “it’s too late, fuck it, it doesn’t matter what I do”; psychic numbing, or failing to reason properly because too freaked out; limited capacity for valuing, or, “I’m too small to matter at all,” and fallacy of double-division, which is kind of like, “I can get away with putting just one straw on the camel’s back; if anything goes wrong it’s not because of me.” But really the first conjecture he gives is the best one.
Selfishness and denial. “In fact, we do in some way understand that individual actions are significant, but are also aware that if we countenance this fact and wish to remain moral, our whole lives must change. So we subconsciously let ourselves believe that small individual actions in fact make no significant difference.”
mariabustillos  martinlukacs  sustainability  individuals  collectivism  ericlevitz  nihilism  economics  politics  collectiveaction  individualaction  carbonfootprint  globalwarming  responsibility  society  selfishness  small  local  hyperlocal  energy  canon 
march 2019 by robertogreco
Marc Andreessen and the Inevitability of Catastrophic Ideas - The Awl
"It's not false to say that some crumbs perforce will fall from the tables of the rich onto those of the poor. It in no way follows, however, that that is the way bread should be shared."

"Those affiliated with the humanities—who interest themselves in all the things that can’t be measured, but must be judged instead, like moral, aesthetic and philosophical questions—are experiencing a daily low-grade fever of dissatisfaction (or generalized rage, in the case of Sam Biddle) as we are daily sold on the inevitability of catastrophic ideas. In 2003, Donald Rumsfeld told a reporter that the OMB had estimated that the Iraq War would cost something less than $50 billion—the total sum, to be shared by the US and its allies. There would be “smart bombs,” plans laid by expert warmongerers, all kinds of precision.
None of this persuaded the people who’d read their history and learned about the politics, who were warning against the likelihood of disaster and of civil war and the emboldening of extremists, and who marched in their millions (many, many millions) in the streets of the world’s capital cities in early 2003. So it rankles in a particular way to see that the true cost of the Iraq War topped $2 trillion not long ago.

What is the study of humanities for? It’s to prevent this. To apply the lessons of history, and consider the possible costs to the future. To consider not only what will profit us but what will be right for us to do, and why. Andreessen, a dyed-in-the-wool measurer and chart-monger if there ever was one, is a man who would never even dream of a just world, where all would sit at the same table. He is the living example of what is lost when we value things only through the money they represent."

[Via who adds:

"This is exactly why so much the tech industry’s rhetoric these days makes broadly educated people feel like they’re taking crazy pills. When Marc Andreesen claims, for example, that we’re about to enter a robot utopia where we all paint and compose symphonies in perfect economic harmony (and that any unpleasantness in the intervening period will be smoothed over by a form of trickle down economics that demands nothing of the rich while ensuring that society doesn’t collapse under the weight of crushing economic inequality), it’s hard not to wonder if he knows anything at all about, oh, say, the entire history of humanity. When he attempts to undermine a critic by mocking her liberal arts credentials and pointing out that she surely can’t be as smart as him because she probably knows nothing about real, scienc-ey things like “quantum entanglement,” he only demonstrates that, like so many blinkered, self-proclaimed rationalists in tech, he knows the price of everything and the value of nothing."]
technosolutionism  disruption  ideology  siliconvalley  californianideology  libertarianism  inequality  humanities  mariabustillos  2014  marcandreessen 
june 2014 by robertogreco
How VCs Turned My Startup Into A Nightmare
"In the twenty-odd years of its existence, the Web has become the province of virtual monopolies (and the U.S. has become stuck at over 8 percent unemployment) for this exact reason: the inability of those in charge to realize the interconnectedness of the culture. Particularly, the false conviction among the rich that the middle class needs them more than they need the middle class, culminating, perhaps, in the ravings of Edward Conard and his cockamamie trickle-down-on-steroids theories.

So long as we continue to measure "success" — and allocate cultural and political influence — in dollars, we will remain at the mercy of those suffering the curse of Midas — the special gift of paralyzing all they touch through their thirst for gold."
middleclass  wealthdistribution  class  monopolies  finance  capitalism  money  success  edwardconard  venturecapital  venturecapitalism  vc  startups  technology  business  2012  mariabustillos 
december 2012 by robertogreco
Wikipedia And The Death Of The Expert | The Awl
"It's high time people stopped kvetching about Wikipedia, which has long been the best encyclopedia available in English, and started figuring out what it portends instead. For one thing, Wikipedia is forcing us to confront the paradox inherent in the idea of learners as "doers, not recipients." If learners are indeed doers and not recipients, from whom are they learning? From one another, it appears; same as it ever was.

It's been over five years since the landmark study in Nature that showed "few differences in accuracy" between Wikipedia and the Encyclopedia Britannica. Though the honchos at Britannica threw a big hissy at the surprising results of that study, Nature stood by its methods and results, and a number of subsequent studies have confirmed its findings; so far as general accuracy of content is concerned, Wikipedia is comparable to conventionally compiled encyclopedias, including Britannica."
culture  internet  history  wikipedia  2011  mariabustillos  science  web  jaronlanier  nicholascarr  sherryturkle  bobstein  marshallmcluhan 
may 2011 by robertogreco

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