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Quotes from The Web We Have to Save

thanks to Ted for the reference

I could have commented on Ted’s Facebook post, but given the argument of the article I figured I had to bring it here. Long live the web!

The hyperlink was my currency six years ago. Stemming from the idea of the hypertext, the hyperlink provided a diversity and decentralisation that the real world lacked. The hyperlink represented the open, interconnected spirit of the world wide web — a vision that started with its inventor, Tim Berners-Lee. The hyperlink was a way to abandon centralization — all the links, lines and hierarchies — and replace them with something more distributed, a system of nodes and networks.

Blogs gave form to that spirit of decentralization: They were windows into lives you’d rarely know much about; bridges that connected different lives to each other and thereby changed them. Blogs were cafes where people exchanged diverse ideas on any and every topic you could possibly be interested in. They were Tehran’s taxicabs writ large.

….

At the same time, these social networks tend to treat native text and pictures — things that are directly posted to them — with a lot more respect than those that reside on outside web pages. One photographer friend explained to me how the images he uploads directly to Facebook receive a large number of likes, which in turn means they appear more on other people’s news feeds. On the other hand, when he posts a link to the same picture somewhere outside Facebook — his now-dusty blog, for instance — the images are much less visible to Facebook itself, and therefore get far fewer likes. The cycle reinforces itself.

The Stream now dominates the way people receive information on the web. Fewer users are directly checking dedicated webpages, instead getting fed by a never-ending flow of information that’s picked for them by complex –and secretive — algorithms.

….

Today the Stream is digital media’s dominant form of organizing information. It’s in every social network and mobile application. Since I gained my freedom, everywhere I turn I see the Stream. I guess it won’t be too long before we see news websites organize their entire content based on the same principles. The prominence of the Stream today doesn’t just make vast chunks of the Internet biased against quality — it also means a deep betrayal to the diversity that the world wide web had originally envisioned.

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From a collapse of the empire to the municipal socialists, below are few excerpts from some recent pieces that together illustrate the various scales, contradictions, and possibilities of politics in the US.

The Biggest Threat to America’s Future Is … America, by John Cassidy
http://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/the-biggest-threat-to-americas-future-is-america

Today, however, it is hard to make the argument that the U.S. political system is serving the country well. With heightened competition and new global challenges, such as the rise of China, the United States badly needs to acknowledge the new realities and improve its game. Despite the country’s enduring economic strength, its conception of its role in the world is outmoded, its infrastructure is crumbling, and its test scores are lagging in math and other areas, despite its impressive performance in cutting-edge research. At the very least, it needs to preserve some of its old techniques of maintaining power, including fostering institutions through which it can exercise “soft power” and serving as a magnet for talented and hard-working immigrants, who provide it with invaluable skills and entrepreneurship.

Rather than accomplishing any of these things, Washington seems to be trapped in a never-ending back and forth, in which sloganeering substitutes for analysis and political point-scoring is elevated above policymaking. It’s a dismal spectacle, and if it goes on indefinitely it will exact an increasingly high price. Not the sudden collapse of Pax Americana, perhaps, but the gradual undermining of it.

Is a New Political System Emerging in This Country? by Tom Engelhardt
http://billmoyers.com/2015/03/25/new-american-order/

Otherwise, a moment of increasing extremity has also been a moment of — to use Fraser’s word — “acquiescence.” Someday, we’ll assumedly understand far better how this all came to be. In the meantime, let me be as clear as I can be about something that seems murky indeed: this period doesn’t represent a version, no matter how perverse or extreme, of politics as usual; nor is the 2016 campaign an election as usual; nor are we experiencing Washington as usual.  Put together our one percent elections, the privatization of our government, the de-legitimization of Congress and the presidency, as well as the empowerment of the national security state and the US military and add in the demobilization of the American public (in the name of protecting us from terrorism) and you have something like a new ballgame.

While significant planning has been involved in all of this, there may be no ruling pattern or design. Much of it may be happening in a purely seat-of-the-pants fashion. In response, there has been no urge to officially declare that something new is afoot, let alone convene a new constitutional convention. Still, don’t for a second think that the American political system isn’t being rewritten on the run by interested parties in Congress, our present crop of billionaires, corporate interests, lobbyists, the Pentagon and the officials of the national security state.

Out of the chaos of this prolonged moment and inside the shell of the old system, a new culture, a new kind of politics, a new kind of governance is being born right before our eyes. Call it what you want. But call it something. Stop pretending it’s not happening.

Want to Rebuild the Left? Take Socialism Seriously, by Kshama Sawant
http://www.thenation.com/article/198425/socialist-politics-heart-rebuilding-left#

After receiving one of the highest votes for a socialist candidate in decades, I ran again in 2013 for the Seattle City Council. Once again, my campaign made bold anticorporate demands—for rent control, a “millionaires’ tax” to fully fund social services, and a citywide $15 minimum wage. Running independently as a Socialist Alternative candidate helped me tap into voters’ anger at the status quo of corporate politics. In Seattle, the council members pay themselves $120,000 a year, the second-highest council salary among the nation’s forty largest cities. I accepted no corporate donations and pledged to take only the average Seattle worker’s wage of $40,000. I also promised to use the rest of my salary to help build social movements.

….

A few weeks after my election, Socialist Alternative and I launched 15 Now, the grassroots campaign that worked with the Seattle labor movement to build support for a $15 minimum wage. Last April, after three months of intense campaigning and movement-building with a citywide network of neighborhood groups, 15 Now filed a “charter amendment.” Business leaders, fearing that the ballot measure could end up being passed as a voter referendum in November, decided to limit their losses by crafting a weaker $15-per-hour ordinance—and then fought to undercut that with loopholes.

The loopholes (including a longer phase-in period, a tip credit, and subminimum wages for teens and persons with disabilities) reflected the strength of the corporate counteroffensive to our movement’s efforts and the complicity of the Democratic Party. But the final result will be a $3 billion transfer of wealth over ten years from corporations to Seattle’s 100,000 lowest-paid workers.

All of these gains are only a taste of the fundamental change we need. While successfully defending low-income housing was a victory, we also need to build thousands more units. While raising funds for social services is a real step forward, we need tens of millions more just to address critical needs. Genuine socialism means planning the entire society and economy on a rational, democratic and sustainable basis—delivering a high standard of living to all while protecting the environment.

Any attempt to develop socialist municipal policies will inevitably come up against resource and technological constraints, as well as political attacks from outside the locality. This can even be seen in the fight for the $15 minimum wage, when Seattle’s victory was immediately threatened by potential statewide initiatives aimed at outlawing local minimum-wage laws. Socialists can overcome these challenges by drawing strength from the interdependence of working people nationally and internationally.

Dustin O'Hara:

Randall continues to find the good stuff…

Originally posted on Lebenskünstler:

Bethel’s Free University Re-Imagines Education, Unites Community

[Bethel is the town immediately north of mine. Its population is approx. 2000]

The town of Bethel is about to start its second year of Bethel University, a pop-up community school that offers a wide variety of free classes open to anyone, Bethel resident or beyond.

Stone says the creation of Bethel University was “a long and winding path,” but that after Tropical Storm Irene, the community wanted to live in a different kind of place, one where neighbors were familiar and supportive.

Stone’s involvement in Bethel University stems from Tropical Storm Irene as well. “When Irene hit, it took us several days to realize how bad the damage was in town. And that was a real wake-up call for me, to say, I really [should] know that someone’s house was swept down river a half mile from my…

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reposted from the critical theory and information studies PhD seminar blog

For the past several months, a network of bay area activists and artists have been staging protests surrounding a fleet of luxury coach buses. These private buses regularly use public bus stops to pick up hi-tech employees from San Francisco and shuttle them to Silicon Valley. The buses are used by a range of tech companies, but the protests have become known as the “Google Bus” protests.

 

google bus protests, 2014, link to source

google bus protests, 2014, link to source

 

Following the initial protests, local officials were relatively quick to come to an agreement that involved the shuttle companies paying the city a one dollar fee for every time a bus uses a public bus stop. The particular details of this private-bus-on-public-bus-stop situation are somewhat banal, to the extent that most highways and roads in the US, could be described as public infrastructure that supports the use of private automobiles. But such a reading, fails to get to the heart of the matter, nor does it allow one to fully appreciate why the “Google Bus” is a fascinating object to put at the center this discussion.

As a site of protest and class antagonism, the “Google Bus” functions as both a literal expression of privatized infrastructure, and a symbolic expression of economic inequality. Through this lens, the buses should be read as one small part of a complex set of entangled systems, that define the current conditions and flow of urban life. While an account of the these systems would include food, education, healthcare, waste management, water and power, communications, and transportation, it is housing, or housing policy, that is arguably at the center of this discussion. While there are a range of rent control and preservation policies that are unique to San Francisco, the unbridled “success” of the one percent, the suppression of real wages for working and middle class households, and a failure of civic imagination, are national trends, and have directly translated into rising rent and greater precariousness for working people. The average rental costs, for most major US cities, has exceeded the recommended 30% mark of  household income. In Los Angeles, where I’m writing from, the median rent has increased by 25% in the last 12 years, and more than half of the population pays rent that exceed 30% of their income. Across California, roughly 20% of households spend more than 50% of their income on rent.

The architect-artist Teddy Cruz argues that we have entered into an era of “urban crisis,” where most major cities around the world are characterized by dramatic social-economic inequality. In a collaborative lecture with political scientist Fonna Forman, the two argue that historic notions of happiness have directly translated into the design of cities. From Aristotle’s conception that happiness coming from our capacity to collaborate with our peers, to modernist notions of happiness coming from personal pleasure; the urban landscape has shifted from cities that centered around public commons, to enclaves of private space. For Forman and Cruz, this spatial architectural shift, is accompanied by the decline of “civic imagination,” and our sense of social responsibility.

 

Teddy Cruz, Urban Crisis 2013

Teddy Cruz, Urban Crisis 2013

 

In San Francisco, like many other cities, the social contracts of solidarity have long been broken. Whether it be personal stories of senior citizens and longtime residents being evicted, or the gradual erosion of opportunity for working people, the Google bus protests mark the continuation of working class protest and struggle. While one could situate, some of the more expressive moments of the Google bus protests within a genealogy of activist art, or regional traditions of San Francisco pranksters and interventionists, the critical themes motivating the work has a strong connection to the history of rent strikes. While the labour movement has been largely organized to combat worker exploitation – abolition of child labour, promotion healthier work conditions, fair wages, job security et cetera; residential rent is also one of the major ways wealth is extracted from the working class.

The history and logic of urban life can largely be understood as an expression of class hierarchy and antagonism. The very systems that support and manage urban life, often reinforce the socio-economic divisions of privilege and oppression. Reflecting this structural dynamic, there is a history of socialist and union organized residential rent strikes. In the UK and other social democracies, rent strikes are identified as part of the historic prelude to the formation of publicly owned social housing. In the US, rent strikes played a direct role in the short-term lowering of rents and the promotion of regional rent protection laws.

Rent Strike, New York Times, 1919.

Rent Strike, New York Times, 1919.

 

In the case of the recent bus protests, locating the protests along the transportation system, foregrounds an intuitive understanding that urban life is defined by an assemblage of related systems. When taken to its rational conclusion, one will inevitably arrive at a socio-ecological orientation. That is to say, the accounting of corporate profits, doesn’t acknowledge the true social and environmental costs enabling business as usual to happen. A holistic account of urban life is a prerequisite of a more equitable “civic imagination.”

In California, many have been quick to present a supply-and-demand analysis of the “rental crisis,” but a free-market approach is not going to resolve the layered problems we face. For one, there is little incentive for for-profit real-estate developers and landlords to undo the very market conditions that are creating substantial profits. Nationally, the US federal government should make considerable investments in affordable housing, to be released as regional grants. Regionally, the combination of a affordable housing trusts, that would keep large collections of housing stock outside of the market, along with universal rent control, and the creation of rent-to-own policies, or the expansion of subsidized mortgages for the remaining private housing stock, are a few possibilities for addressing the issue of affordable housing.

I want to conclude this text, by directing our attention to the “Freedom Budget,” a comprehensive proposal written by civil rights and labour activists in 1965. The “Freedom Budget” summarized its goals with the following list:

1) the abolition of poverty
2) guaranteed full employment
3) full production and high economic growth
4) adequate minimum wages
5) farm income parity
6) guaranteed incomes for all unable to work
7) a decent home for every American family
8) modern health services for all
9) full educational opportunity for all
10) updated social security and welfare programs
11) and equitable tax and money policies

 

References

Dewan, Shaila. “In Many Cities, Rent Is Rising Out of Reach of Middle Class.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 14 Apr. 2014. Web. 18 Apr. 2014.

“Freedom Budget.” – Social Justice Wiki. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2014. http://socialjustice.ccnmtl.columbia.edu/index.php/Freedom_Budget#The_Budget.27s_Proposals

Harvey, David. Rebel Cities: From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution. New York: Verso, 2012. Print.

“High Rent, Few Options: Rising Rents and Short Supply Have Angelenos Weighing Their Choices | 89.3 KPCC.” High Rent, Few Options: Rising Rents and Short Supply Have Angelenos Weighing Their Choices | 89.3 KPCC. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2014.

KPCC in Los Angeles, produced an interactive map illustrating the rental costs and income ratio for the greater LA region. http://projects.scpr.org/static/longreads/high-rent-few-options/

“How Burrowing Owls Lead To Vomiting Anarchists (Or SF’s Housing Crisis Explained) | TechCrunch.” TechCrunch. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2014. An overview of the regional dynamics and history of San Francisco’s housing crisis. http://techcrunch.com/2014/04/14/sf-housing/

Illich, Ivan. Deschooling Society. New York: Harper & Row, 1971. Print.

Nichols, John. The S Word: A Short History of an American Tradition… Socialism. Brooklyn, NY: Verso, 2011. Print.

“The Urbanization of Happiness and the Decline of Civic Imagination with Fonna Forman and Teddy Cruz.” YouTube. YouTube, 14 Apr. 2014. Web. 18 Apr. 2014. Lecture about the history of happiness and urbanization https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KK33-qDLCow

“Why the Private Market Can Never Solve SF’s Housing Crisis – 48 Hills.” 48 Hills. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 Apr. 2014.

SF housing crisis and affordable housing alternatives. http://48hillsonline.org/2014/04/14/private-market-can-never-solve-sfs-housing-crisis/

 

For some years now, I’ve collaborated with my friends at The Center for Research in Engineering, Media and Performance (REMAP). The blog Gizmodo recently wrote a blog post cover a public demonstration of a new mobile interpretive media app we’ve been building for downtown LA.

Reposted from Gizmodo:

Los Angeles To Launch Nation's Largest Interactive Urban Trail Network

Los Angeles is a big place—0ver 400 square miles. Even though it’s home to the country’s largest urban park many of its residents do not have easy access to a public green space. A new “interactive interpretive” urban trail system hopes to close that distance, while connecting Angelenos to the hidden cultural and fitness opportunities in their city.

Gizmodo got a hands-on of the new app (which will be released officially in April) during a walk yesterday with its creators at the Interpretive Media Laboratory (IMLab). IMLab is a partnership between UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television and California State Parks that develops tech tools to help Angelenos access public space.

Joining us on the walk were Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell, who was in town to announce a new initiative that will connect local youth with urban wildlife refuges.

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Jaron Lanier is definitely one of the more popular tech gurus. In the video embedded above he discusses his recent book Who Owns the Future. The book takes very broad strokes at discussing the computational dimensions of the political economy in the early 21st century. In the most general sense, his argument is about what an updated version of the labor movement within the digital era might look like. Central to his argument, are several key ideas:

Siren Servers – Behind every large company or political project, you’ll quickly find a super computer. Within the commercial context, the siren server’s primary function is to calculate market variables in order to maximize profit and externalize risk. In Lanier’s view, siren servers are central to the concentration of economic and political power, and the erosion of livable wages, and stable jobs.

Levees – Historically, the labour movement, unions, tenure, etc, have functioned as “levees” regulating the market and protecting middle and working class interests. Building off the notion that free-markets are not so free, but in fact require regulations to function, Lanier asks how do we create digital levees to protect the economic interests of the general population?

User Data Compensation – Lanier argues that if corporations are going to collect user data and profit from it, then users should be compensated for their data. This is one of the key concepts he proposes as a possible levee. He presents this notion of paid-for data and content in contrast his longtime involvement in the open source and free software movement, which in his view has failed, insofar as it has been instrumental in helping to birth siren servers.

Who Owns the Future is a quick-lucid-fun read, but there some shortcoming to his argument. While the notion of user data compensation (or micro-exchanges within the internet) is a provocative one, it isn’t the magic levee he hopes it to be. Social media is one of the domains where he proposes such a system of micro-exchanges would promote economic distribution, but other researchers have looked into this possibility with FaceBook, and concluded that such compensation would come to roughly $50/year for each user. While most people wouldn’t turn down fifty bucks, it’s hardly going to roll back the economic losses that neoliberal policies have ushered in.

Lanier is a captivating speaker (I recently had the opportunity to see him speak, and play music, at UCLA), but from his live lecture it became clear that his argument is largely grounded in a libertarian notion of a self-regulating market. As he put it, these digital levees would transition digital capitalism towards being inherently more equitable in the distribution of resources. That is to say, he privileges the notion of technical innovation over state regulation. Such a distinction is fuzzy at best, and in the context of a longer post would lead to the topic of Values in Design, or how certain cultural and economic ideals are built into systems and architectures.

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