politics

semiotic subversion in china

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The Big Sort

Another book for my reading list. Bill Bishop: The Big Sort: Why the Clustering of Like-Minded America Is Tearing Us Apart. 2008. http://www.thebigsort.com

The Wall Street Journal: 'Like-Minded, Living Nearby' (April 22, 2008)

The more diverse America becomes, the more homogeneous it becomes.

No, that's not a misprint; it is the thesis of "The Big Sort," Bill Bishop's rich and challenging book about the ways in which the citizens of this country have, in the past generation, rearranged themselves into discrete enclaves that have little to say to one another and little incentive to bother trying. "As Americans have moved over the past three decades," Mr. Bishop proclaims, "they have clustered in communities of sameness, among people with similar ways of life, beliefs and in the end, politics."

It is an idea that has all but obsessed Mr. Bishop since he began thinking about it years ago in his hometown of Austin, Texas. In his Austin neighborhood, he observed, there were virtually no Republicans. In another community of similar size nearby there were very few Democrats. Thirty years earlier, he was willing to bet, nothing like that uniformity would have been possible. Values, ideology and partisanship would have mingled more variously in even the most compact neighborhood, ward or district.

AP alleges copyright infringement of Obama image


NEW YORK (AP, 04.02.2009) — On buttons, posters and Web sites, the image was everywhere during last year's presidential campaign: a pensive Barack Obama looking upward, as if to the future, splashed in a Warholesque red, white and blue and underlined with the caption HOPE.

Designed by Shepard Fairey, a Los-Angeles based street artist, the image has led to sales of hundreds of thousands of posters and stickers, and has become so much in demand that copies signed by Fairey have been purchased for thousands of dollars on eBay.

The image, Fairey has acknowledged, is based on an Associated Press photograph, taken in April 2006 by Mannie Garcia on assignment for the AP at the National Press Club in Washington.

The AP says it owns the copyright, and wants credit and compensation. Fairey disagrees.

The article quotes competing opinions about whether this is fair use or not, with all the usual hair splitting.

There's an interview with Fairey where talks about all the different influences that guided his transformation of the image and how other people worked on his stuff. Which makes the fair use discussion even more absurd.

Commons: A rough definition

Last week, I spent a few days at a small but intense workshop where we were looking at a the political dimensions of various forms of commons. The discussions were open and far ranging. I tried to distill some of these into a definition of commons that tries to take its various dimensions into considerations and separates structural from political issues. Far from perfect....

COMMONS, A DEFINITION

A commons is a resource held as joint property by a community. Thus, it is distinct from private property (held by natural or legal persons) or public property (held by the state). Typical for commons is that the management of the resource is oriented towards use-value for its members, rather than towards exchange-value within society at large. The separation between producers and consumers is minimized. Thus, commons are also distinct from other forms of collective ownership (such as co-operatives) that produce for the market.

All commons are social institutions, they depend on a community to create and maintain it. A resource that is freely available to all but not managed in a meaningful way by a self-aware community (e.g., the fish in the open sea) are not a commons. Like in all communities, questions of membership (boundaries) and internal decision-making are subject to ongoing, more or less conflictual, negotiations.

It is these questions that define the political quality of the commons, which can serve as defensive mechanism against market encroachment (e.g., in the case of indigenous commons), as a project of exclusion (e.g., in far-right conceptions of the body national) or as the basis of open cooperation (e.g., in the case of Free and Open Source Software).

Google’s Gatekeepers

Jeffrey Rosen has an interesting article in the NYT Magazine asking "Are Google’s gatekeepers determining the limits of free speech?" He looks at various cases where Google decided how to respond to demands that it blocks access to material, most notably on YouTube.

On the balance that Google seeks to strike, he quotes Tim Wu, a Columbia law professor and a former scholar in residence at Google:

“To love Google, you have to be a little bit of a monarchist, you have to have faith in the way people traditionally felt about the king. One reason they’re good at the moment is they live and die on trust, and as soon as you lose trust in Google, it’s over for them.” Google’s claim on our trust is a fragile thing. After all, it’s hard to be a company whose mission is to give people all the information they want and to insist at the same time on deciding what information they get.

Copyright coalition: Piracy more serious than burglary, fraud, bank robbery

This is already a year old, but it's always good to have this reference at hand. Therefore it's noted here.

NBC/Universal general counsel Rick Cotton suggests that society wastes entirely too much money policing crimes like burglary, fraud, and bank-robbing when it should be doing something about piracy instead.

"Our law enforcement resources are seriously misaligned," Cotton said. "If you add up all the various kinds of property crimes in this country, everything from theft, to fraud, to burglary, bank-robbing, all of it, it costs the country $16 billion a year. But intellectual property crime runs to hundreds of billions [of dollars] a year." Cotton's comments come in Paul Sweeting's report on Hollywood's latest shenanigans on Capitol Hill.

Source: Ars Technica, June 15, 2007

Swedish Left Party Wants to Legalize Piracy

It really seems that it now becomes politically acceptable, at least in Europe, to see p2p file sharing not only as socially acceptable (in order to protect privacy and freedom of speech) but even as beneficial.

This Sunday, the Swedish Left Party voted in favor of a motion calling for the legalization of sharing copyrighted files for personal use. The party, which currently holds 22 seats in the Swedish parliament, sees piracy as something positive, much like public libraries.

At the party’s congress this weekend, party members had to vote on a motion that would legalize the uploading and downloading of copyrighted material for personal use, as long as it is not for commercial purposes.

Source: torrentfreak

30 Years of Tactical Media (book chapter)

30 Years of Tactical Media
Felix Stalder

Tactical media as a practice has a long history and, it seems save to predict, an even longer future. Yet its existence as a distinct concept around which something of a social movement, or more precisely, a self-aware network of people and projects would coalesce has been relatively short lived, largely confined to the internet's first decade as a mass medium (1995-2005). During that time Geert Lovink and David Garcia, two Dutch media activists/theorists at the heart of this network, defined Tactical Media, as

what happens when the cheap 'do it yourself' media, made possible by the revolution in consumer electronics and expanded forms of distribution (from public access cable to the internet) are exploited by groups and individuals who feel aggrieved by or excluded from the wider culture. Tactical media do not just report events, as they are never impartial they always participate and it is this that more than anything separates them from mainstream media.2

Like so many other things that are now common in our informational lives, the roots of tactical media lie in the cultural innovations of radical social movements that sprang up in the late 1960s. Not only did they begin to exploit technological changes enabling to self-produce media but they created entirely new ideas of what the media could be: not just conduits for more or less sophisticated state propaganda (as in Althusser's famous analysis of the “ideological state apparatuses”3) or as a source of “objective” information provided by a professional (enlightened) elite. Rather, they reconceptualized the media as means of subjective expression, by people and for people who are not represented by the mainstream.

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