August 16, 2010


Category: Politics,Quotes — Biella @ 5:56 am

This is one of the best descriptions for utopia I have come across. You may not be able to reach it–and it is good to know this–but it can certainly inspire movement, action, and lead at times to a better, even if not perfect, world.

She’s on the horizon… I go two steps, she moves two steps away. I walk ten steps and the horizon runs ten steps ahead. No matter how much I walk, I’ll never reach her. What good is utopia? That’s what: it’s good for walking. — Eduardo Galeano

March 12, 2010

Stuff I have been enjoying (a freaken lot)

So in the last week I have read some stuff, seen some presentations, and visited some sites that I have really loved, so here they are to share:

Trollcats (this will take my power point slides to a whole NEW level) and here is one for all the free software geeks, in particular.

I finally read Manuela Carneiro da Cunha fantastic Prickly Paradigm press book “Culture” and Culture: Traditional Knowledge and Intellectual Rights. If you don’t know jack about the thorny issues around indigenous knowledge an IPR, the first 2/3 provides a pretty darn good introduction rooted not only in an explanation of trade treaties, the limited repertoire available for indigenous groups to politically respond, but a great story about a specific frog that secretes a sticky film that basically F’s you up (if you let it seep in your open wounds). It is entertaining. The last 1/3 takes a far more theoretical turn and will be harder to understand for novices (it helps if you have like at least a BA, possibly MA in anthro, best if you have a PhD from her academic home, U of Chicago). It is there where she discusses the relationship between culture as “reflexive” (hey, peoples of the world, we have x, y, c culture) as lived unreflexively (the unconscious plane of norms that helps guide perception and action). I loved her theoretical somersaults whereby she explained how contradictions between the two are experienced as anything but a contradiction.

Ok so today I went to this conference Radars and Fences III (where I presented my anon/scientology talk for the first time 3 years ago!). I was not able to stay the whole day but I saw Ricardo Dominguez & Amy Sara Carroll from the Electronic Disturbance Theater present on the Transborder Immigrant Tool, which I knew about but did not know how infused it was in poetry, poetry that is, in fact, an integral part of its arsenal. Their presentation was fantastic and it reminds me the great political work being done at the interface of art and technology (and believe me, these 2 are rabble rousers. UCSD, who helped fund the project, are not all that happy they did and they also get not hate mail they get but the HATE mail).

Then I saw Laila El Haddad & Mushon Zer-Aviv present on an amazing project You are Not Here which is a bit hard to explain briefly but I will try (and their site introduces it as “an urban tourism mash-up. It takes place in the streets of one city and invites participants to become meta-tourists of another city.”

So basically there are two interlinked sites (NYC and Baghdad and Tel Aviv and Gaza) where you can be a tourist (though the physical place to follow the symbols are only in NYC and Tel Aviv). You need a map. You get a map. The map, once put up to the light shows two cities/places with symbols that indicate a special spot on the map. You find the physical spot, there is sticker or other sign with a phone number, you call, and you hear a story not about NYC or Tel Aviv (where you would physically go) but about Baghdad or Gaza and a story that pertains to the area of the map that overlaps where you are in NYC or Tel Aviv. We saw a bunch of examples and they were riveting and powerful.

March 10, 2010

A Cultural Alibi of Sorts

Category: Academic,F/OSS,Geek,Gender,Politics — Biella @ 7:08 am

There is an interesting conversation over at about the “nature” of peer production, and “crowd” based production over at PBS. Thankfully folks right off the bat noted that the types of activities they are addressing—that range from 4chan to open source—are so freaken distinct that perhaps it is not all that useful to use one moniker for them.

The comments I am most fascinated by are danah’s who notes:

“”We” assume that the collective voice will be populist and, more importantly, that it will reflect the diversity of the populous. Yet, as we’ve seen time and time again, certain values and attitudes and voices are over-represented in crowd-sourced activities. Who is looking out for those who aren’t represented? In what ways are we reinforcing structural inequalities? What are the implications of this?”

And then Clay’s response:

So, to re-ask your question in a non-rhetorical way, under what
circumstances would we want to make the population of Deviant Art,
say, less white, or Linux less male, and if we wanted to do so, what
would need to happen?

What I find interesting about this discussion (and will be talking about this topic here, next week) is there not enough recognition of two related things: 1) the efforts are there (more on this soon) 2) that perhaps hacking and F/OSS in particular are not fully accessible to all and everyone because they are full-fledged, full-bodied, cultural worlds —and all cultural worlds—are to some degree not fully accessible and transparent for there are built on particularities, often invisible and unarticulated, forms of value. That is, just as some norms and values of Indo-Guyanese to take one random example, are not of my world, so too is hacking partially inaccessible for the fact that it is culturally configured.

But I am starting to suspect that the “culture-ness” of these domains are often overlooked because they are overwhelmingly white, male, and chock full of computers (and so economically lucrative). All three, I suspect are (incorrectly) seen as lacking culture, as domains of rationality. (I stand rightly corrected and also forget this very fact, though I know it well from all the Brazil/Latin America Debconfs, as this diversity gets a bit lost from a pure US-European perspective, which I was assuming).

Other historical factors have also produced certain distortions that don’t allow us to see (easily at least) these worlds as culture-full. First is the fact that so many folks—outside of this world—lobbed onto F/OSS for being radical (and this is partially right in so far as its challenge to intellectual property can be seen as radical). But the portrayal or mere suggestion of these worlds as uber-democratic and populist, made people expect these groups to behave as radical egalitarian collectives. For the most part, they don’t and yet never portrayed their own politics and forms of organization as such (openness comes in the form of code and technical merit).

But this vision stuck and when some folks realized that larger projects, for example are very organized (which many people addressed only very late), have hierarchies (which are flexible and also allow them to function, which is I think is a good thing), and are not as diverse, there was deep disappointment that they did not conform to the sense that there was something extremely radical going on as opposed to a cultural group really into producing free software.

But if I am offering a cultural alibi of sorts—in which barriers to participation are to some degree a function of culture, one of the great things about the norms, values, ideas that compose culture is that there are dynamic and changing. They are alive and historical. They are pushed and pulled upon by insiders and outsiders based on wider social values.

And there is an answer to these questions about diversity for there has been a dramatic, noticeable, and noteworthy push within this world, one that really started to coalesce I would say in the last year or so, to address these issues and it ranges from Python’s mammoth efforts at addressing diversity (and I have been told that there was a great speech on the topic at Pycon recently), the geek feminism wiki, and smaller but increasingly common efforts such as Libre Planet’s women’s caucus and their funding of women to participate.

So while I do think that culture goes at least part of the way to explain why these worlds are not fully open—for culture limits—this very domain has grown dissatisfied with its representational make-up and are leading some efforts for cultural change.

March 3, 2010

The Statute of Anne (was actually kinda revolutionary)

Category: Academic,IP Law,Politics — Biella @ 4:17 am

Last night, in two different instances I read the claim that the England’s first copyright act, the statute of Anne passed in 1710 was never intended to protect authors but to protect the reproducers like printing houses and presses investing in authors implying that printing houses loved the act.

After pouring through hundreds of pages of Adrian John’s history of piracy, that statement is pretty off and in fact I don’t think the Statute was really about printers/booksellers or authors but the public.

While licensing had all together lapsed for a period before this statute was passed, and the printing houses and book sellers were indeed clamoring loudly for an official recognition of property in literary works, they wanted a perpetuall right in literary property rooted in common and natural law. Like I am talking here about forever, not like a measly, paltry 14 years.

They were not exactly thrilled at this statute (in fact, they were downright pissssssssed off) for it severely limited how long they held a property right over books. In fact, so pissed were they, they challenged the statute, went to court in 1769 (Millar v Taylor) and got what they wanted: a perpetual right to literary work.

It took s a fiery Scot and bookseller by the name of Alexander Donaldson (I kind of think of him as the RMS of booksellers; he was quite a rabble rouser) to challenge Millar and he finally got his day in the highest court of the land in 1774 in Donaldson v Beckett and the outcome was that a perpetual right in books was tossed out the window. The court ruled that copyright was a limited statute. One of the lords in the case even stated “”Knowledge has no value or use for the solitary owner: to be enjoyed it must be communicated.” Adrian John’s explains the significance of this case in the following way:

““Copyright, they decided, was not a right of man at all. Indeed, it was almost the very opposite: an artifact, and one that replaced a prior right established by an author’s work of creation. . . In terms of revolution principles, liberty won out over property”

Again the printers booksellers (minus the “pirate” ones) were not happy a bunch. Unfortunately the subsequent history is one we all know well, one in which booksellers and others with vested interests in copyrights pushed to extend property rights in all sorts of ways to get to where we are today (obviously with a lot of different historical developments), a land, time, period where perpetuity may not be forever but it is long enough to nullify the very public domain envisioned by the first copyright act.

However, I think it is nonetheless important to recognize how radical in many respects the first copyright act was: given what the book printers and sellers wanted (and they were a powerful bunch).

For those interested in learning more about Alexander Donaldson, I would check out his Some Thoughts on the State of Literary Property, where he rails against the London booksellers for being monopolistic and calling for a limited property right in books.

February 21, 2010

Logos of our Lives

Category: Academic,Fair Use,IP Law,Politics — Biella @ 8:52 am

Two of the more influential books that have taken swipe at our contemporary intellectual property landscape concerned themselves with trademark, logos, and capitalism. Here i am thinking of Rosemary Coombe’s seminal The Cultural Life of Intellectual Property Law and Naomi Klein’s more activist take on the subject, No Logo. What would happen if you condensed the arguments in these two books into a 15 minute video?

Well, this morning I found out what this might look like.

Someone pointed me to a mind blowing video that might be called All Logo, All the Time: an amazing visual and dystopian rendition of the alphabet soup of logos, trademark acronyms, corporate mascots that pervade our landscape, one might even say consciousness. I would take a whirl and watch before the IP police take it down.

February 10, 2010

Suffering from MEAD?

Category: Humor,Psychiatry — Biella @ 4:30 am

If I told you that you suffer from MEAD you might think (if you are an anthropologist like me) that you suffer from an obsession with a plump anthropologist of said name who popularized the discipline bringing home tales of Samoan teenagers who did not seem to suffer from the angst and anxiety of their American counterpart. Or you might think MASSIVE EMAIL ANXIETY DISORDER, which is a DSM diagnosis I invented last week and thus have minimized the work that the American Psychiatric Association will have to put into updating their DSM (you’re welcome).

So I have penned down its major characteristics and effects so that you too can identify with some other inner pathology that might mark your daily life and being (you’re welcome)

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association currently defines Massive Email Anxiety Disorder (MEAD) disorder in the following way. 

Please note that while this definition of MEAD is the most definitive and clearly produced to date, there are several potential problems with this definition that will hopefully be addressed by the task forces, editors, and research coordinators of the association as time progresses. 

The Current DSM-IV  Definition (Abridged):

A.  A persistent fear of one or more ‘emails situations’ in which an author of an email worries about the status of a sent email. The individual fears that the tone or content of a message was misinterpreted or that an email never arrived to its correct destination. Alternatively, they worry excessively about why they have not received a response.

B.  Exposure to the feared situation almost invariably provokes anxiety, which may take the form of a situationally bound or situationally pre-disposed Panic Attack.

C.  The person recognizes that this fear is unreasonable or excessive.

D.  The feared situations are avoided or else are endured with intense anxiety and distress. Alternatively the person suffering from MEAD shuffles over to their partner or office-mate to talk (obsessively) about the nature and possible effect of the email, sometimes for hours, sometimes even for days.

E.  The avoidance, anxious anticipation, or distress in writing email, which interferes significantly with the person’s normal routine, occupational (academic) functioning, or social activities or relationships, or there is marked distress about having the phobia.

F.  In individuals under age 18 years, the duration is at least 6 months.

G. The fear or avoidance is not due to direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., drugs, medications) or a general medical condition not better accounted for by another mental disorder.

Problems with the DSM Definition of Massive Email Anxiety Disorder

While this definition is clearly the most definitive and precise official definition produced so far, “Massive Email Anxiety Disorder” has only been officially recognized since 2020, and the problem did not become adequately explained until the 2015 version of the DSM. Thus, the definition of MEAD disorder is becoming clearer and more precise with each edition. 

Written in “honor” of current revisions for the DSM, expected to be published in 2013


February 6, 2010

Hard to imagine but it is our history

Category: Academic,Books/Articles,IP Law,Politics — Biella @ 10:12 am

Stowe v Thomas (1853) where the court argued that a German translation of Uncle’s Tom’s Cabins did not constitute copyright infringement (quoted from Meredith McGill’s excellent bookAmerican Literature and the Culture of Reprinting, 1834-1853:

“Before publication [the author] has the exclusive possession of his invention. His dominion is perfect. But when he has published his book and given his thoughts, sentiments, knowledge or discoveries to the world, he can have no longer an exclusive possession of them. Such an appropriation becomes impossible, and is inconsistent with the object of publication. The author’s conceptions have become common property of his readers, who cannot be deprived of the use of them, or their right to communicate them to others clothed in their own language, by lecture or by treatise”

February 1, 2010

Patenting of Genes

Category: IP Law,patents,Politics — Biella @ 7:07 am

There is a *very important* patent case being deliberated tomorrow in NYC. I am SO tempted to ditch some important work to go. We will see… Whatever case, I will be following it closely. Does anyone know if you are allowed to bring a laptop into federal court?

ACLU attorneys Chris Hansen and Sandra Park will argue the case before Judge Robert W. Sweet of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York Court. Other co-counsel in the lawsuit, including Daniel B. Ravicher, Executive Director of PUBPAT, as well as some plaintiffs and expert witnesses will also attend the hearing.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010
10:00 a.m. EST

Daniel Patrick Moynihan U.S. Courthouse
Judge Robert Sweet’s Courtroom 18C
500 Pearl Street
New York, NY 10007

January 4, 2010

All tech

Category: Academic,Digital Media,IP Law,Phreaking,Piracy,Politics — Biella @ 5:32 am

Fall semester I did not teach any classes that covered digital media (in part because I was swimming in the stuff writing a review essay on the topic, which I am sending today to the journal, ending about 4 months of hell).

On the other hand, spring semester will be all about digital media: hackers, free software, privacy, piracy, phone phreaking and more. I am excited. Here is my graduate syllabus on the commons and piracy and here is my undergraduate class on hacking. Both are still under development but pretty far along.

December 5, 2009

Category: Not Wholesome,Politics,Toxins — Biella @ 9:58 am

The compensation U.S. veterans now receive for herbicide-related illnesses was gained only after a long, hard-fought battle in which the lines between science and politics were often blurred.

Stunningly written and depressing piece of investigate journalism about Agent Orange’s continued presence, wreaking havoc in the lives of many.