My sense of the holy, insofar as I have one, is bound up with the hope that someday, any millennium now, my remote descendants will live in a global civilization in which love is pretty much the only law.

In such a society, communication would be domination-free, class and caste would be unknown, hierarchy would be a matter of temporary pragmatic convenience, and power would be entirely at the disposal of the free agreement of a literate and well-educated electorate. – Richard Rorty

Left with what's Right

The exile of a poet, is today a simple function of a relatively recent discovery; that whoever wields power is also able to control language, and not only with the prohibition of censorship, but also by changing the meaning of words. – Czeslaw Milosz, Nobel Lecture [nod to wood s lot]

Does surveillance make you uncomfortable?

Pattern classification

The Institute for Applied Autonomy held workshops in which participants create interactive maps of their city’s surveillance infrastructure.

Initially this meant focusing on the mechanics of surveillance, pointing out that in practice CCTV surveillance has had very little impact on actual crime and that it is subject to the biases of system designers and operators, which means it often gets used to ogle women and single out youth and minorities for scrutiny.

This activity asks a very different set of questions than simply “Does CCTV make you uncomfortable?”

Instead, it points to the lack of any kind of baseline data about surveillance.

Before we can have an intelligent conversation about CCTV surveillance, for example, it would be nice to know how many cameras are in operation, where they are, who owns them, etc. For the most part, this information simply doesn’t exist.

In most countries, cameras are put up by individual building owners and their data is increasingly managed by third-party private companies.

In effect, we have an emergent infrastructure of video surveillance that is growing on an ad-hoc basis, without any public discussion or oversight. Interview at WorldChanging

On the other hand, officers are trawling through hours of CCTV footage with unconfirmed reports suggesting they have a crystal clear image of the suspects who planted bombs in London.

Civilization Backup

Jamais Cascio is asking if we’re taking into account the possibility of failure.

If global warming isn’t a sufficiently compelling threat for you, substitute the existential problem of your choice: asteroid strike; zoonotic pandemic; biowarfare; molecular manufacturing-based warfare; unfriendly AI.

What does it mean to prepare for recovery?

  • open-source disaster prep?
  • updated survivalism?
  • social resilience?

Will we wake up in a post-disaster society run by farmers and librarians?

Moore or less

A Canadian online newspaper has reviewed Michael Moore’s Sicko.

“Sicko points out this curious moment in American history. Namely, where’s the anger?

“Why aren’t people enraged by what has happened to their country? Where’s that good old American revolutionary spirit?

“Perhaps people who are sick, afraid, demoralized and in debt are far easier to govern than a healthy, perky, sassy populace.”

Corn bulge update

Corn farmers will produce a record crop this year.

A quarter of the US corn crop will be used for ethanol. Corn prices are at a 10 year high – $750 an acre compared with $420 for soybeans. Planting more than 90 million acres, the US agricultural landscape is transformed as soybeans, cotton and wheat are displaced.

Animal feed prices are rising while ingredient supplies are under pressure. To use ethanol plant waste called distillers grain, feedlots are being relocated. To raise cash, feedlots are building power plants to capture cattle urine and manure. By-product markets are changing as oil crops, wood waste, grasses, sugar-cane stalks and citrus waste are moving toward fuel production. [Financial Times]

Corn Belt not required
Irrigation and fertilizer use is way up. Monsanto, Dupont and Syngenta report that engineered seed sales bring high margins and record sales. For the next rotation, planting marginal land is likely with the use of patent seeds – potentially a one-third increase in total acreage. [Financial Times]

The United States surpassed Brazil last year as the world’s largest ethanol producer with around five billion gallons compared to some 4.3 billion gallons produced in Brazil. But the United States needs around 14 billion gallons just to provide enough for a 10 percent blend in this country’s gasoline supply. [Miami Herald]

Adjustments are global. Traditional US grain-belt exports are down. Feed and food shortages are expected to spike prices. Clearing new acreage, Brazil hopes to increase exports of food. Indonesia and India are under heavy pressure. China stopped licensing projects that use food grains for ethanol, causing sweet potato and sorghum demand to skyrocket as the next choice for fuel production.

Neither weather nor wither

We are at the very beginning of time for the human race. It is not unreasonable that we grapple with problems. But there are tens of thousands of years in the future. Our responsibility is to do what we can, learn what we can, improve the solutions, and pass them on. – Richard Feynman

The Bombast Reviews

Dvorak ain't listenin' no more, no more...If you’re not colliding with thermal updrafts caused by overworked blow dryers, if you’re willing to take on the appearance of intuitive ectomorphs, if you’re tired of snotty galleries and overstuffed museums, then you will enjoy The Secrets of Inner Loserhood while browsing Christopher Locke’s reviews on Less prolific than I expected, but fun.

Presidential Scholars speak up

Presidential Scholar medalBy Executive Order of the President, one of the nation’s highest honors is to be named a Presidential Scholar.

During the ceremony this year in the East Room of the Whitehouse, the young recipients handed a signed handwritten letter to the President.

Stating that they have a responsibility to voice their convictions, the letter urged a halt to “violations of the human rights”:

“We do not want America to represent torture.

We urge you to do all in your power to stop violations of the human rights of detainees, to cease illegal renditions, and to apply the Geneva Convention to all detainees, including those designated enemy combatants.”

Deputy press secretary Dana Perino said later that the United States does not torture and that the USA values human rights. Associated Press

A kill-switch for centralized records?

What will be done if a user of a central records database is malevolent?

In 1944, the Netherlands’ government-in-exile pressed the British to precision-bomb buildings containing personal records. Attacks were carried out on municipal archives in many locales across the Netherlands. Fire brigades took their time; watching a building as the records went up in flames.

Between 1941 and 1943, the Germans used details in records to isolate, deport and murder more than 150,000 Jews residing in Holland.

Records were also used to identify opposition and to round-up conscripts for forced labor in Germany.

What is a balanced view of identity and privacy and security?
Stephen Lewis is isolating the issues and posting about identity and the infrastructure of records.

Lousy media = Lousy society

Canadian journalists, reporters, editors and camera operators believe that owners’ “values and politics” and “financial bottom lines” affect the news and the editorial agendas of the country’s publications and broadcast stations.

Some results from the largest study ever conducted on the state of journalism in Canada:

  • Seventy-seven percent said promotion steers news agenda.

  • Sixty percent said owners do not value journalism over profit.
  • Fifty-eight percent have been assigned stories to promote owners.
  • Sixty-five percent said financial bottom line affects editorial agenda.
  • Forty-five percent said advertisers influence news decisions.
  • Forty-five percent said owners support little or no investigative journalism.
  • Sixty-five percent reported chronic staff shortage.
  • Seventy-nine percent of women report sexism & discrimination against women.
  • Only 41 percent said owners encourage good journalism.
  • Only 35 percent agreed that owners respect journalists.

Ninety percent believe things have been getting worse over the last decade.

[Story on news quality here]
The complete report of the study [pdf] at Communications, Energy and Paperworkers.

When fanatics represent the majority

There are media policies that contribute to war.

Slate prints more of telling us about jihadist staging, the angry islamist, but he’s saying more about how pictures inflate:

I have actually seen some of these demonstrations, most recently in Islamabad, and all I would do if I were a news editor is ask my camera team to take several steps back from the shot.

We could then see a few dozen gesticulating men (very few women for some reason), their mustaches writhing as they scatter lighter fluid on a book or a flag or a hastily made effigy.

Around them, a two-deep encirclement of camera crews.

When the lights are turned off, the little gang disperses.

And you may have noticed that the camera is always steady and in close-up on the flames, which it wouldn’t be if there was a big, surging mob involved.

Our attitudes about war are significantly driven by pictures of an enemy. For that matter, we shape opinions about welfare viewing pictures of poor people in housing blocs, about wealth viewing rich people in Malibu, about politicians viewing pictures that are usually carefully staged.

Survey quality online mapping

Earthmine rangefinder camera truckLaunching this summer, the Earthmine map system will offer much more precision than Google’s video street maps.

Rafe Needleman stumbled onto the Earthmine camera truck and posted specs at Webware plus a few of Earthmine’s upcoming features:

    • survey-quality 3D data
    • laser range-finding
    • object coordinates
    • perspective-corrected hi-res pics

For sale to government and corporations, Earthmine will provide panorama picture maps with accurate locations of light poles, trash cans, storefronts, trees, faces and license plates.

Fred Thompson, Phony

Parading as an outsider, Fred Thompson has been a hustler & lobbyist for decades.

He earned more than $750,000 from a firm that wanted to limit its liability from asbestos lawsuits, and helped to raise some $5 million for the legal fees of Vice-President Dick Cheney’s disgraced aide Lewis “Scooter” Libby. [link]