categories

Finally, a logical explanation of Copyright Math


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Rob Reid’s “The $8 billion iPod” explains the devestating impact the piracy of intellectual property has had on the American economy. via TED Talks

Ugandans know what's up


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An Al Jazeera report about a screening of the KONY 2012 video in Uganada. The crowd does not seem impressed.

The Invisible Children spokesman’s claim that what they are doing is “connected to a really deep, thoughtful, and strategic campaign” does not seem to be validated by the rest of the report.

The search for an Objective History in Mississippi


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In Mississippi (rated one of the worst states in terms education quality in the US), Republicans are proposing a bill that would ban history courses from “promoting any partisan agenda or philosophy”. When you read the actual bill being proposed, there is nothing outright objectionable. The question of how exactly one is supposed to stip politics from history and create an “objective” viewpoint is certainly there, but the text is completely ambiguous. It is only when you hear the reason as to why it is being propsed that the true intent of the bill comes to light:

Rep. Becky Currie, R-Brookhaven, a committee member, said she was aware of problems at her daughter’s school. Currie said a teacher took liberal viewpoints when discussing current events assignments, leading her to demand a conference with school authorities.

“No matter which side of the coin you’re on, her teacher ended up going toward the liberal end,” Currie told the committee. “I was surprised she made it out of there, still believing the way she was taught at my house.” (Clarion Ledger)

This is actually an attempt to add a partisan agenda to the teaching of history; an agenda set by the state legislature. Had Rep. Currie stated that she was unhappy that history was being discussed uncrtically, it would be one thing. But what she is actually saying is she is unhappy because “the coin” always landed against her “viewpoints”. She at once acknowledges that there is a inherent (apparently binary) politically-interpreative dimension within the teaching of history – and that her bill is aimed at ensuring that her side gets more of a say.

I don’t think any of her political opponents are actually fooled by this ploy, but I believe a general rule-of-thumb can be established here:

Any attempt by a political body at establishing anything “objective” is never objective and is always political.

 

The opposite of poverty is not wealth. … In too many places, the opposite of poverty is justice. - Bryan Stevenson

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From a fantastic and inspiring talk on the subject of the racially-marked legal injustices in the American penal system. via TED Talks.

How not to fight for human rights: Kony 2012


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I awoke this morning to a flood of posts on my Facebook wall sharing this video from the Kony 2012 campaign. Generally speaking I’ve found that things that gains so much social traction so quickly are either hilarious or make my skeptic-sense tingle. This stunt falls head-first into the latter category.

I knew nothing about the organization backing this video (Invisible Children Inc.) prior to watching it, though I was vaguely familiar with Joseph Kony and his LRA militia. After watching the half-hour long, slickly-edited, emotionally-manipulative piece  I wasn’t sure if I actually learned anything more or if I had just been given a hard-sell. There’s something creepy about an over-produced, over-long video about a serious issue that lacks any nuance or even much geopolitical awareness, but does feature a cute kid saying cute things. It seems to announce “I should not be trusted”.

It turns out a lot [1] of [2] other [3] people [4] have also been raising their critical eyebrows. This article written by Mark Kersten is an especially sharp analysis of the campaign and its shortfalls. What really shocked me was that Invisible Children is actually advocating military intervention and increased military funding as a solution. It’s discomforting that a non-profit human-rights organization would be backing an increase in militarization, especially when the armies it is supporting carry their own allegations of human rights abuses. Equally disturbing is that Invisible Children’s response to this has been, essentially, ‘you gotta crack some eggs.’ Um, excuse me?

Read more…

Reading Report: Power/Knowledge (Michel Foucault)


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Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews & Other Writings 1972-1977  (first published 1980 and edited by Colin Gordon) is, as its subtitle suggests, a collection of just under a dozen interviews, debates, and lectures that serve as a relatively short and painless introduction to the thought of Michel Foucault. The pieces variously cover almost the whole breadth of his work, with the majority of them serving as effective summaries of his larger written works. The reading value of the pieces varies, but is for the most part high; every piece has some useful morsel to digest and ponder upon, even if it is occasionally buried within dated and problematic language. It would  have been nice to have more of an introduction to each piece, containing dates, the context of the writing, who the interviewers are, and the original publication date. I can see there might have been a motive by the editor to try and let the discussion speak for itself and avoid biasing the reader, but I felt it would have likewise helped bring clarity in some places as to the motivations behind a specific question or answer.

The major theme of the collection, as can be surmised from the title, is the interplay, interdependence, and configuration of and between power and knowledge. I must admit that, some years ago, I was quite a Foucault-skeptic. Reading “Nietzsche, Genealogy, and History”, a dense essay which I felt took far too many metaphors and polysyllabic neologisms to get across a relatively simple idea and left a bad taste in my mouth of yet another tedious French philosopher whose volumes could probably be distilled down to a few sentences on a Wikipedia page. It was only after debating the issue with a friend – and having my arguments thoroughly trounced – that I realized he deserved a second look. I’m glad I gave him one.

Read more…

Democracy's "stupid" problem


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I am a committed democrat. I believe that democracy, for both moral and practical reasons, is the only acceptable system of governance for human political relations. There’s certainly room for debate as to how best to structure a democratic government and what level of participation is ideal, but the idea that the government is ‘of the people, for the people, and by the people’ is fundamental.

Such steadfast commitment on my part is a somewhat recent phenomenon, and was no doubt guided by my good friend Phil Paine. In my early teen years, my outlook was far more authoritarian. I distinctly remember long, late-night arguments with a friend of mine where I espoused something akin to a technocracy – a utopian ideal where the best and brightest among humanity would rule with Unquestionable Objectivity and the lesser people would dutifully serve, blissfully free of the burden of decision making. My vision even included a drastic reurbanization among Le Corbusierian lines – gleaming white towers in pristine grassland emptiness – where apartments would be awarded solely on merit. It was a fantasy derived from Star Trek and Brave New World, and no doubt from the profound distaste I witnessed those around me had for the democratic election of Mike Harris and his “Common Sense Revolution” Conservatives.

Now, thankfully, I realize what a moronic load of hogwash that was. It was built on flimsy premises: “people are selfish”, “people are stupid”, “people make bad decisions”, “I am smarter than most people (of course)”, and so logically, “I should be in charge!” There’s rich irony in such an argument, but unfortunately, this line of reasoning occurs again and again in counter-democratic discourses. The past few weeks I’ve had several exposures to it courtesy of news sites reporting on research by psychologists David Dunning and Justin Kruger.

Read more…

new site / domain


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After a rather long hiatus, I’ve restarted my site. It’s at a new domain just because I disliked the vanity of pasting my name onto various corners of the internet.

I realized a little while ago that I genuinely missed the struggle of translating my thoughts into writing and the challenge of thinking crtically about the world around me. So here I go. Adventure Time! (uh, just after this nap…)