Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Monopolies of knowledge

According to communication theorist Harold Innis, monopolies of knowledge are created in the atmosphere of hostility between time-biased and space-biased media, wherein one tradition marginalizes the other. In this context, the term "knowledge" refers to all information and data in addition to the products of literacy and science. Those who control knowledge through the dominant media of a given society also control reality, in that they are in a position to define what knowledge is legitimate. Thus, monopolies of knowledge encourage centralization of power.

Innis concluded that monopolies of knowledge lead to an imbalance of power in society, which inhibits development by stifling competition among ideas, traditions and institutions.

From entry on Harold Innis :

Innis also tried to defend universities from political and economic pressures. He believed that independent universities, as centres of critical thought, were essential to the survival of Western civilization. His intellectual disciple and university colleague, Marshall McLuhan, lamented Innis's premature death as a disastrous loss for human understanding. McLuhan wrote: "I am pleased to think of my own book The Gutenberg Galaxy as a footnote to the observations of Innis on the subject of the psychic and social consequences, first of writing then of printing."

Bollywood and Obama

Two fun (and unrelated) videos:

Tunak Tunak Tun

Barack OBollywood

Ritter says White House preparing for war in Iran

Scott Ritter, former head of weapons inspection in Iraq who protested there were no weapons of mass destruction to justify an invasion, believes the same is true for Iran.

But there is an 80 percent chance of war with Iran, he told about 200 people Wednesday at Middlebury College as part of a series of talks facilitated by the Vermont Peace and Justice Center.

The pattern of preparations for such a conflict has been steadily developing and involves Congress as well as the Bush-Cheney administration, he said.

People ask him if he feels vindicated by the absence of WMDs in Iraq, he said, but "there isn't any vindication in being right about this one." A war with Iran would hasten the ongoing decline of American standing in the world, and afterward Russia and China would be ready to take advantage of the resulting power vacuum, he said.

Explaining religiosity's rise in India

From: Rush hour of the gods

This explanation does not adequately explain the Indian data. Here we have the case of rising religiosity among the already wealthy and the upwardly mobile, whose level of material well-being is fairly decent even by Western standards.

The second explanation is that the growing religiosity is a defensive reaction to modernisation and Westernisation. Pavan Varma, the author of the much-cited The Great Indian Middle Class, treats religion as a refuge for the alienated and lonely urbanites, uprooted from the old, warm little communities they left behind in villages. Varma simply assumes that the transition to modern life in the cities must be traumatic and drive the new middle classes to seek out the consolation of God in the company of fellow believers.

But insecurity and anomie do not appear to be the most salient aspects of what is going on. There is anxiety and insecurity among the newly well-to-do as they face an increasingly competitive economy with declining job security. But there is also a sense of expanding horizons and multiplying opportunities. The upwardly mobile in urban India have, in the words of researcher Maya Warrier, "done well for themselves by seizing the educational and career opportunities that came their way. Their experience of the unprecedented pace and scale of change had resulted not so much in a sense of despair and alienation as in a sense of optimism about multiple opportunities in most spheres of life."

It is not despair or alienation, but rather ambivalence over their new-found wealth that seems a more plausible explanation of the growing religiosity.

'Increasing per capita beer consumption is associated with lower numbers of papers, total citations, and citations per paper'

Using a survey of the publications since 1980 of avian ecologists from the Czech Republic, which has the highest per capita beer consumption rate in the world (157 litres each year, or 176 pints), he discovered "that increasing per capita beer consumption is associated with lower numbers of papers, total citations, and citations per paper (a surrogate measure of paper quality)."

He has confidence in the findings because nine in every 10 avian ecologists he approached were happy to provide data. Whether the one in 10 who declined to take part were too busy drinking in the local pub is not known.

In addition Dr Grim found the same predicted trends in comparison of two separate geographic areas within the Czech Republic that are also known to differ in beer consumption rates.

"These correlations are consistent with the possibility that leisure time social activities might influence the quality and quantity of scientific work and may be potential sources of publication and citation biases."


Kubrick's 2001, Frankenstein and autonomous technology

'In some cases, stolen credit card numbers were sold in batches of 500 for a total of $200'

Fierce competition among identity thieves has driven the prices for stolen data down to bargain-basement levels, which has forced crooks to adopt mainstream business tactics to lure customers, according to a new report on Internet security threats.

Credit card numbers were selling for as little as 40 cents each and access to a bank account was going for $10 in the second half of 2007, according to the latest twice-yearly Internet Security Threat Report from Symantec Corp. released Tuesday.

[ ... ]

Full identities — including a functioning credit card number, Social Security number or equivalent and a person's name, address and date of birth — are going for as little as $100 for 50, or $2 apiece.

Certain identities are more alluring than others, according the report. Stolen identities of citizens of the European Union sell on the high end — for $30 — an average of 50 percent more than U.S. identities.

Researchers said the higher prices reflect the fact that the identities can be used in multiple countries, instead of just one. They added, however, that scarcity of a certain type of identity will drive up its price.

Also popular with attackers are Web site-specific vulnerabilities because few are fixed quickly. Of 11,253 so-called "cross-site scripting" vulnerabilities found on specific sites during the second half of 2007, only 473 were patched.

Blame gamers knocking on Greenspan's door

Critics say Greenspan, under whom U.S. rates went from 6.5 percent in late 2000 to 1 percent in mid-2003, eased policy too much and then took too long to tighten again. That, they say, spurred excessive mortgage borrowing and stoked the housing bubble that is now the root cause of the credit crisis.
But Greenspan said the Fed cut rates to spur growth and prevent deflation and, at that time, dissenting votes on the policy committee were from those who wanted rates even lower.
Analysts also blame Greenspan for failing to press for stricter rules for bank lending to consumers with weaker credit records, and for not anticipating the subprime mortgage meltdown.
"I was praised for things I didn't do," Greenspan told the newspaper. "I am now being blamed for things that I didn't do."

'What you reach for is your Roget's'

From: Thesaurus Unbound

It was precisely that scientific bent that was his book's distinction. The organization of Piozzi's and Girard's, as well the handful of others that were published before Roget's 1852 thesaurus, was scattershot by comparison. Roget's, which was remarkably successful in its author's lifetime, was a comprehensive system of synonyms and antonyms. Roget built a numbered inventory of 1,000 fundamental ideas, like "existence," which appeared with a set of related words, ens, entity, being, existence. Later, he came up with a series of six nested classes, which were inspired by the Linnaean classification of animals. Thus, Kendall writes, " 'Perfection' falls under Class V, 'Words relating to the Voluntary Powers,' Division I, 'Individual Volition,' and Section i, 'Volition in General.' " The higher the level, the more abstract the idea; the lower the level, the more specific. Roget considered his book the opposite of the dictionary: You started with the idea and then found the word. His project was so original and so immense in scope that it has taken not just time but the connectivity, the huge databases, and the broad online access of modern information architecture even to begin to outstrip it.

Exactly where print reference will be in 10 years time is still murky, but the writing is quite clearly on the wall or, if you prefer, the desktop. A recent survey to be published by the Dictionary Society of America found that while students use dictionaries as much as they ever did, the online versions have overtaken paper. Many students use Thesaurus.com and Dictionary.com (also Reference.com), which in November 2007 had 15.1 million unique visitors. Conversely, the 2008 print edition of Quid, formerly one of France's most popular encyclopedias, was canceled last month for want of sales.

Happily, if the computer processing of words is killing reference books, it's also making them better. In particular, word reference is morphing faster and smarter than any other kind of compendium out there. The innovation is not just a matter of a new medium that permits us to get online what we used to turn pages for. There has been an evolutionary leap, too: The digitization of words in time allows us to see language as it really is—not so much an abstract code as a dynamic system.

One of the most important spurs to word research is the increased use of the corpus, the term used to refer to any large body of written or spoken communications, be it a collection of medieval manuscripts or a folder of sound files. Diverse scholars of language have long amassed corpora, such as books on particular topics or writings by particular people, in order to analyze the language of the whole. Before the computer era, corpus work required painstaking, slow tabulation. With a computerized corpus, you can search and count (and run any other kind of linguistic analysis) with greater ease. Corpus linguistics means that the language of thousands of people can be mined by lexicographers, reflecting the facts of English as it is spoken or written by a population, not just English as it was spoken by Peter Mark Roget. If Roget's Thesaurus, along with Webster's and Johnson's original dictionaries, is the idiosyncratic cartography of brilliant 19th-century explorers, then this stuff is GPS.

'The future may yet belong to Rawls, not Machiavelli'

From: The Post-Dictator Era

[I'm hoping the author expects Bush & Cohorts will be joining the ex-dictators' club - hopefully behind bars for a very long time.]

Depressed? Don't be. Thanks to international institutions and the NGO community, the notion that governments should be constrained by constitutional checks and balances is increasingly becoming a global norm. Just the fact that Putin, who enjoys 80% approval ratings, honoured his term limits and stepped aside shows that democratically elected despots are increasingly having to pay attention to such restraints. Even lip service counts for something. Although prime minister-'elect' Putin is expected to still dominate Russia, relinquishing the substantial formal powers of the presidency will make that less straightforward than before.

What has really complicated the lives of dictators, however, has been a communications revolution that has given a growing proportion of the world's population access to the internet and satellite television. Consider how Russians (or for that matter Kenyans) can now follow Barack Obama's roller-coaster ride through countless primary elections and compare it to their own system.

That is not to say that political repression is a thing of the past. Far from it. But contrary to what Larry Diamond of the Hoover Institution writes in Foreign Affairs that "the democratic wave has been slowed by a powerful authoritarian undertow, and the world has slipped into a democratic recession", in fact the opposite is true. Autocrats everywhere, from Putin to Musharraf, are finding it much harder to command obedience by controlling informational flows. Egyptian bloggers, Burmese YouTubers, Pakistani satellite TV news anchors, and the online community in China and Iran make it much harder for even smarter, savvier dictators to flourish.

The Chicken Doves

Quietly, while Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have been inspiring Democrats everywhere with their rolling bitchfest, congressional superduo Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi have completed one of the most awesome political collapses since Neville Chamberlain. At long last, the Democratic leaders of Congress have publicly surrendered on the Iraq War, just one year after being swept into power with a firm mandate to end it.

Solidifying his reputation as one of the biggest pussies in U.S. political history, Reid explained his decision to refocus his party's energies on topics other than ending the war by saying he just couldn't fit Iraq into his busy schedule. "We have the presidential election," Reid said recently. "Our time is really squeezed."

There was much public shedding of tears among the Democratic leadership, as Reid, Pelosi and other congressional heavyweights expressed deep sadness that their valiant charge up the hill of change had been thwarted by circumstances beyond their control — that, as much as they would love to continue trying to end the catastrophic Iraq deal, they would now have to wait until, oh, 2009 to try again. "We'll have a new president," said Pelosi. "And I do think at that time we'll take a fresh look at it."

[ ... ]

Democrats insist that the reason they can't cut off the money for the war, despite their majority in both houses, is purely political. "George Bush would be on TV every five minutes saying that the Democrats betrayed the troops," says Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an Independent who voted against the war but caucuses with the Democrats. Then he glumly adds another reason. "Also, it just wasn't going to happen."

Why it "just wasn't going to happen" is the controversy. In and around the halls of Congress, the notion that the Democrats made a sincere effort to end the war meets with, at best, derisive laughter. Though few congressional aides would think of saying so on the record, in private many dismiss their party's lame anti-war effort as an absurd dog-and-pony show, a calculated attempt to score political points without ever being serious about bringing the troops home.


UN investigator firm on Israeli-Nazi comparison

From: UN expert stands by Nazi comments

Speaking to the BBC, Professor Richard Falk said he believed that up to now Israel had been successful in avoiding the criticism that it was due.

Professor Falk is scheduled to take up his post for the UN Human Rights Council later in the year.

But Israel wants his mandate changed to probe Palestinian actions as well.

Professor Falk said he drew the comparison between the treatment of Palestinians with the Nazi record of collective atrocity, because of what he described as the massive Israeli punishment directed at the entire population of Gaza.

He said he understood that it was a provocative thing to say, but at the time, last summer, he had wanted to shake the American public from its torpor.

"If this kind of situation had existed for instance in the manner in which China was dealing with Tibet or the Sudanese government was dealing with Darfur, I think there would be no reluctance to make that comparison," he said.

That reluctance was, he argued, based on the particular historical sensitivity of the Jewish people, and Israel's ability to avoid having their policies held up to international law and morality.


The Wiki Wars of Campaign '08

There was the day in February when an editor replaced a photo of Hillary on her Wikipedia page with a picture of a walrus. Then there was the day this month when a Hillary supporter changed Obama's bio so that it referred to him as "a Kenyan-American politician." But such sweepingly hostile edits are usually fixed quickly by other Wikipedia users. Often, it's the most arcane distinctions on the candidates' pages that provoke the bitterest tugs-of-war. Recently, an angry battle broke out on Hillary's page over whether to describe Clinton as "a leading candidate for the Democratic nomination" or just "a candidate," since each phrase implies a different shade of judgment on her chances. Five minutes after an Obama supporter deleted "leading" just after 11 p.m. on March 8, another editor put it back. Seven minutes after that, the word was deleted again. Some thirty minutes after that, it was put back. On it went, with different Wikipedia editors debating the significance of Hillary's delegate deficit on her talk page and accusing each other of introducing the dreaded "POV"-- or "point of view," a violation of Wikipedia's most fundamental principle--into the article. At around six in the morning, completing the atmosphere of pandemonium, somebody replaced Hillary's whole page with "It has been reported that Hillary Rodham Clinton has contracted genital herpes due to sexual intercourse with an orangutan."
[ .. ]
Schilling is the man who protects Hillary's online self from the public's hatred. He estimates that he spends up to 15 hours per week editing Wikipedia under the name "Wasted Time R"--much of it, these days, standing watch over Hillary's page. Hardly a news event or argument over her situation goes by without Wasted Time R's input: He edited her page 77 times in the last month, mostly pruning away changes he viewed as inappropriate, such as a rant about Geraldine Ferraro or a stealthy effort to diminish Hillary's role in improving the State Children's Health Insurance Program. The fact that Schilling is married to a librarian who, he laments, "never recommends anybody use Wikipedia" (no one, no one, hates Wikipedia as much as librarians) does not diminish his vigilance. "You constantly have to police [the page]," he says, recalling the way Rudy Giuliani's Wikipedia article declined in quality after its protectors lost interest. "Otherwise, it diverts into a state of nature."

A criminal defense lawyer in Rome, says he often reassures his clients: "Don't worry, you'll never go to prison"

Less than two years ago, Italy's prison system faced a crisis: Built to hold 43,000 inmates, it was straining to contain more than 60,000.

So the government crafted an emergency plan. It swung open the prison doors and let more than a third of the inmates go free.

Within months, bank robberies jumped by 20%. Kidnappings and fraud also rose, as did computer crime, arson and purse-snatchings. The prison population, however, fell so much that for awhile Italy had more prison guards than prisoners to guard.

In Italy, it sometimes seems that no bad deed goes unpardoned.

The nation's legal system has roots in the unforgiving codes of the Roman Empire, well known for crucifixions and feeding people to the lions. But since then it has evolved to become infused with Roman Catholic notions of forgiveness, along with a healthy dose of bureaucracy.

The death penalty is considered abhorrent, and life sentences are rare. Defendants have the right to two appeals, and even traffic tickets can be appealed to the nation's highest court. Italy's courts are so clogged that the statute of limitations on most felonies expires before a final verdict can be reached.

[ ... ]

With the justice system at a standstill, prosecution carries little stigma. Consider Italy's two-time prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi. He has been named as the target in more than a dozen criminal probes, and has been sent to trial at least a half-dozen times on charges ranging from tax evasion to bribing judges.

Legal headaches like these might have stymied a political career elsewhere. But Mr. Berlusconi is leading in the polls and stands a good chance of being re-elected as Italy's prime minister this month.

Mr. Berlusconi, who is also one of Italy's richest men, was convicted in two of the cases brought against him, but the charges were all eventually overturned on appeal or tossed out because the statute of limitations had expired. Other cases are still pending in the courts.

Mr. Berlusconi maintains his innocence and has long said he is a victim of politically motivated prosecutors.

The system has been a boon for other politicians here as well. More than 20 of the 945 elected members of Parliament have been convicted of crimes including associating with organized crime and committing acts of terrorism.

Former Sicily governor Salvatore Cuffaro, for example, was recently convicted of aiding and abetting a known Mafioso. Mr. Cuffaro, whose case is on appeal, is expected to be elected to the Senate this month.


'We are probably all hard-wired to respond and care for babies'

Using a technique called magneto-encephalography that measures brain signals, the Oxford researchers found that a baby's face can seize our attention in milliseconds, activating an unusual mental organ called the fusiform gyrus that responds to human faces. Moreover, these distinctive infant features, unlike the mature features of an adult, trigger a sense of reward and good feeling in a seventh of a second. Picture Bambi's saucer-size eyes or those of Mickey Mouse.
The researchers concluded that the parental instinct is present in all of us. "It suggests we are probably all hard-wired to respond and care for babies, to help us perpetuate the species," said Oxford child psychiatrist Alan Stein, who helped conduct the experiment. "The response to an infant face is too fast to be under conscious control."

'Twice a day, he used his code name "Tigre 3" to report back to his boss at "Zorro-3" '

Mr. Danne and thousands of explorers like him are the bedrock of a global mining industry struggling to keep up with booming demand. As demand soars in China and other emerging economies, the world is clamoring for minerals and metals to build everything from sewer systems to power plants.

That's putting immense pressure on the geologists, engineers and modern-day Indiana Jones-type explorers who are tasked with finding the next big reserves. Adding to the pressure on Rio Tinto is a takeover bid by BHP Billiton, an Anglo-Australian mining company, valued at $147 billion.

Mr. Albanese says he hopes to help fend off BHP by capturing more reserves quickly. That could boost Rio Tinto's net worth -- or at the very least, persuade BHP to pay a higher price. He has hired more explorers and dispatched them to places like Southern Africa, Siberia and Peru. The company now employs about 950 explorers world-wide and is spending about 15% more on exploration than it did five years ago. The new discoveries have to be "big enough to move the needle," says Mr. Albanese.

'In France, generally two cheeks, or four, no lips; in parts of Belgium, three cheeks'

Whatever happened to shaking hands? There is something so American about the firm control of a handshake -- it's about disarming one's opponent and keeping him two feet at bay. Control is in our DNA. This is why travel guides must spell the social kiss out for us: In France, generally two cheeks, or four, no lips; in parts of Belgium, three cheeks, and so on.

But Americans are now learning to perform the social kiss. The dexterous cover all bases. Jim Murren, president and chief operating officer of Las Vegas gambling giant MGM Mirage, routinely cheek-kisses, then mentions his wife, Heather, to make it clear that the kiss was just a kiss. "I think it helps break down barriers of mistrust and apprehension," Mr. Murren says.

However, he adds: "No frontal hugs!" While some men don't mind a less intimate shoulder squeeze, Mr. Murren is backed up by corporate etiquette consultant Ann Marie Sabath, who says simply, "Frontal hugs: faux pas."

After all, once we start breaking down the barriers, opportunities to get the wrong idea abound. The congressional cheek-kisses planted on our first female House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, led Chicago sex therapist Laura Berman to declare -- sounding a tad prudish -- in the Chicago Sun-Times that the kisses came across as "patronizing and derogatory, even unnecessarily sexual."

Neil Young: Let's Impeach The President

The 'Contemporary regime of spectacle…machine-aided process of disciplinary attentiveness'

[or, How the lesson of the Soviet downfall bounced off tin heads]
" ... Perhaps a little premature yet it appears that the US military-industrial machine is attempting to enclose the global open system; to transform it and enmesh it within a closed system of total information awareness; to cover, track, and gaze omnisciently over all flows, mobilities, and transactions. It is a move towards a total system, an attempt to gain some degree of mastery over the unpredictability of global flows through the core component of dominating informational flows. As part of this project the US military are currently establishing a linkage of satellites into what has been dubbed the military 'Internet in the sky', which will form part of their secure informational network named as the Global Information Grid, or GIG (Weiner, 2004). First conceived in 1998, and now in construction, $200 billion has already been estimated as a cost for both the hardware and software (Weiner, 2004). This war-net, as the military also term it, forms the core of the US military's move towards appropriating network-centric warfare (Arquilla and Ronfeldt, 2001a; Arquilla and Ronfeldt, 2001b; Dickey, 2004; Weiner, 2004). The chief information officer at the US Defense Department was noted for saying that 'net-centric principles were becoming "the centre of gravity" for war planners' (Weiner, 2004). Some of the names of the military contractors involved in this project include Boeing; Cisco Systems, Hewlett-Packard; IBM; Lockheed Martin; Microsoft; Raytheon; and Sun Microsystems (Weiner, 2004). As part of this complete coverage – or 'full spectrum dominance' – the US military hopes to be able to communicate and control an increasing arsenal of unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) and unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs), integrated into what they are calling the 'Multimedia Intelligent Network of Unattended Mobile Agents' (Minuteman). This in turn is part of a larger military project on Intelligent Autonomous Agent Systems (Science-Daily, 2002).

Recently, a document entitled Information Operation Roadmap was declassified by the Pentagon and made public by the National Security Archive on January 26, 2006. According to this document the term 'information operations' includes

The integrated employment of the core capabilities of Electronic Warfare, Computer Network Operations, Psychological Operations, Military Deception and Operations Security, in concert with specified supporting and related capabilities, to influence, disrupt, corrupt or usurp adversarial human and automated decisions-making while protecting our own. (DoD, 2003: 22)

The document continues by outlining how the US military needs to secure a future electromagnetic capability 'sufficient to provide maximum control of the entire electromagnetic spectrum, denying, degrading, disrupting, or destroying the full spectrum of globally emerging communication systems, sensors, and weapons systems dependant on the electromagnetic spectrum' (DoD, 2003: 61). Clearly, the recommendation here is for developing, and extending, current capabilities in order to have full and complete dominance over all globally emerging telecommunications and their hardware.

[ ... ]

The development of increasingly sentient 'smart' environments will go some way towards creating a more systemic relationship of interconnections and interdependencies between humans, objects/machines, and locality. This possibility has led some commentators to speak of an emerging cybernomadic landscape (Saveri, 2004). Here, the emphasis is on an embedded sensory world that will influence and fundamentally alter social practices. Such a cybernomadic landscape has been defined, in a recent IFTF report, by three primary forces of physical-digital fusion; the augmented self; and digitally catalysed masses (Saveri, 2004: 2). Similarly, De Rosnay sees this future as a form of symbiotic humanity: 'each person functions as a node in this hypernetwork. Symbiotic humanity is both the totality of the network and one of its elements; it exists through the network and the network exists only through it' (de Rosnay, 2000: 143). In all cases it involves networking with, utilizing, and interacting with objects, something which futurist and author Bruce Sterling refers to as a 'synchronic society':

A synchronic society generates trillions of catalogable, searchable, trackable trajectories…Embedded in a monitored space and time and wrapped in a haze of process, no object stands alone; it is not a static thing, but a shaping-thing. (Sterling, 2005: 50) ... "


image from http://www.spitting-image.net

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