October 30, 2004

A letter to anthropologists

Category: Politics — Biella @ 9:32 pm

What an ‘exciting’ evening: I deliced my blogs of spam and looked up all the call numbers for the books and articles I need to put on reserve for the course on hacker ethics and politics I am teaching next quarter. So I have a little time to kill before crashing in bed (still not quite over this stomach turmoil that has hit my life this week) I will just ramble with some random stuff I wanted to blog this week.

So first off because blog is such an atrocious name, it repels. I am convinced that if blogs were not called blogs there would be way more bloggers in the “blog0Sphere” yet folks eventually get the itch, and get over their understandable name repulsion. You see more and more folks I thought would never have a blog, like espe and dilts now have them and I find them pretty darn pleasant to read. Dilts actually had a specialized blog to prepare for his exams which is pretty clever thing to do. I imagine that blogs will become pretty standard for teaching and I personally will use IRC for non-essential office hours type stuff (and as a great way to cut down on the administrative email which can be a nightmare).

So, speaking of the academy and academics…. It has been surprising how few established (ie tenured) professors have spoken out against the AAA’s actions in the face of the striking workers in Atlanta. I think the reasons for this are complex, but it seems to be part of it is just a general trend towards public silence in the academy. It is not like it is entirely silent it just seems like silence is the norm and then there are a few outspoken critics. I think if a few more of them took the plunge into the icy waters, I bet more would follow. And you know if these older tenured folks were writing blogs, they would for sure just spend like 15 minutes firing off an excellent letter.

Today one such letter popped into my inbox, written by Philip Bourgois Like much of his writing, it does not mince with words. Its simplicity is what grips:

Dear Anthropologists,

Please do not go to Atlanta for the sake of the workers locked out of the Hilton Hotel in San Francisco and for the sake of hotel service workers throughout the country. The Hilton Hotel in San Francisco has locked its workers out for asking for basic necessities that are common sense in the rest of the industrialized world and should be considered a basic human right: decent minimum wages and health benefits… (for full-time employees!) The conference in Atlanta is at a non-union Hilton Hotel. All sections of the American Anthropological Association should cancel their sessions in Atlanta. The Hilton Hotel and the Hilton Company will benefit financially and symbolically by having anthropologists attend their hotel in Atlanta.

By patronizing any Hilton Hotel while its workers are locked out in San Francisco (or anywhere else in the world or the country) we would be behaving exactly like United Fruit Company executives in Central America and multinational executives throughout the world who break the backs of unions by simply switching production to non-union plantations/sweatshops in neighboring countries when one of its plantations/sweatshops tries to unionize. That is unconscionably abusive and is much more important than any of our anthropology-meeting-related concerns. We should have the decency and humility to realize that whatever we have to say at our academic meetings can wait for another year or six months for the sake of hotel workers. Service workers have a chance of winning this fight for their rights because hotels, unlike plantations and sweatshops, have to stay put. The service workers union will lose if organizations like the AAA move around the country at the will of the Company to whichever city has the cheapest wage and most abusive working
conditions. This is not a complicated issue. It should be easy for anthropologists with a global perspective to understand the stakes.

October 29, 2004

An Accidental Anthropological Predictor

Category: Anthropology — Biella @ 9:06 pm


Folks always ask me predictive type questions about the future of software, open source, and hackers and I usually shy away from those questions and say something like ‘Anthropology is purely interprestive/descriptive with little eye to the future’ which is more or less true (though we shed that stance in our grants). But then there are instances of reverse prediction which are quite ironic like… In my dissertation I claim that we can study free software to study liberalism’s conceptual points of tensions, its imaginative reformulations, and its heightened states of contradiction. That is while free software draws on discourses of liberal freedom it challenges some other classically liberal arguments and I used the example of Richard Epstein as a liberal who might not agree with the model of free software.

And in fact he proved me correct in an article, “Why open source is unsustainable.” But while he proved me correct, his article is otherwise filled with a number of simple factual errors. notably:

“Second, once someone incorporates open source software in his own programs, then any license that he issues cannot charge others for it…” I guess he has no idea of Red Hat and countless other firms that sell free software…

Anyway, every once in a while, it is fun to predict, even if entirely by accident.

A HOT visit to the acupuncture clinic

Category: Wholesome — Biella @ 7:57 pm

It is one of those weeks I would most like to forget –> One night of proficient yacking, three days nausea and two days of aches is more than enough for me. So today after the most vivid dreams in the world that left me nauseous in the morning, I ditched my Friday seminar and headed up north to the student run acupuncture clinic at the Midwest Center for the Study of Oriental Medicine. I hesistate to go only because of the long wait although as I will soon write, it is usually an entertaining wait though always mildly depressing too. Despite the long wait, the quality of treatment tends to be quite quite good, I think in part because the students have to display proficiency to their teachers so they are extra careful and thorough.

When I lived in Chicago before I left for SF, I used to go regularly. It has since become a popular hotspot for cheap and caring therapy so now the wait is pretty tortorous. Today for example, they started seeing patients at 1 pm but by 10 am there were already a cadre of older ladies there, determined and waiting. I arrived at 11:20 am as was a lucky number 6 on the list that by 1 pm balloned to 17.

The mix of folks who go to the clinic is motely though overwhelmingly female. In the waiting room today there were Russians, Ukraines, an Indian, a couple of Asians, a few Hispanics, and an African American, and one Jamiacan lady, with the most awesome name (Saint something or another, but the saint part was what caught my attentionl).

As a person lacking a patience gene, waiting at the office is not always so easy for me and I find a roomful of ailing folks as depressing which never makes me feel any better so I tend to go only at extreme momements of desperation which is about the worst time to go since the idea behind acupunture is much like a car tune up and oil change: maintanence to avoid problems. But it is pretty darn good for acute sort of problems too.

So despite the aura of sadness of any medical clinic, there are always some enlivening moments and good bouts of humor. I love to listen to people’s conversations because there are usually filled with hope or resiliance despite the obvious pain folks are in… And then there are the more amusing moments, like today when this elder Latino man sitting next to me asked me if I was taking off my sweater because I was “HOT.” And indeed, I was “hot” (for it was a surprising 77 degrees today) but I was not sure if he was referring to hot as hot or hot as in HOT. But as soon as he started telling me that the Russian woman (who he had been moments earlier flirting with) across the room was also HOT (and he waved and winked at that moment), I knew which HOT he was referring to. But the funniest part was as he was flirting via punning, I was reading a book precisely on joking and I had just hit the part about joking relationships among non-kin in industrial societies, in which a permissible form of sexual joking was said to be the much older male with the young lady. Hmm, the book was written in the late 1960s so I am not sure how permissible it is post PC-era but anyway, I found it amusing and cute because he was *so proud* of his joke. And it got my mind off my tummy which was the whole point of being there in the first place and it made me wonder if he scored with the La Rusa…

October 25, 2004

The Prickly Press goes Public

Category: Wholesome — Biella @ 9:52 pm

So I am pretty excited about this especially since Marshall Sahlins was a little skpetical of the idea of Creative Commons at first. But indeed, Prickly Paradigm Press is going public so to speak and they have some wonderful political pamphlets to be consumed and circulated. I will leave the rest to Rex who was a main shaker for the move, and he of course, wrote a most excellent summary.

The seduction of fall and the politics of brillaince

Category: Politics — Biella @ 9:18 pm


Like it always does, the fall has taken grip of me. Its brilliant reds and oranges bring the blue sky to life, the dying greens becoming a precious frame instead of the dominant color. Fall seduces me like no other season does. It may be because it was the one season I never saw until I was 18. Whatever its magnetic force of attraction is, it puts me in the right state of being: contemplative yet highly alert; an inner happiness is marked by a side of saddness. It is a time where I feel perfectly justified in retreating, in burrowing deep into my thoughts and my work. I usually am most productive in the fall which may be sheer incorporated habit. Years and years of school will do that to ones thinking…

One of the the elements that I love most about fall is the persistence of life in the face of death or withdrawl. Before shedding thier leaves into a state of symbolic death, the trees are defiant, they explode into a briallance of reds, and oranges, as if to let the world know there is still plenty of life in there despite its upcoming state of hiberation.

Defiance. That is what signators of this petition written to the executive director of the AAA’s feel. Defiant, pissed, and let down. We all received a thoughtful email last week about the hotel strike and lockout in the Hilton, which was the location of our meeting. At the time, it seemed like the AAA as an organization was taking into serious ethical account the implications of supporting the hotel during the time of such a serious strike. They conducted a poll and even though the majority of respondents said they would either want to cancel or move to San Jose (where we recieved offers of financial help from the city), the moved the meetings to Atlanta in mid December and no less to another f*cking Hilton.

Wow, what a shocker. And as said by one class mates after the decision was made –> “The AAA rules, like Imperial Swine.” Any respect I had for the org is going to be hard to find. For a discipline that has been fraught by its colonial legacy and which has I think done a really amazing job at being reflective and critical about the implications of power and knowledge, the organizations representing the disciple has taken the path of least resistance, has reinscribed the conventional order of things, it has ignored the input from its members, and yet this is one of the worst elements, it does so claiming it has taken the input of its members into account though in fact they NEVER even offered (another Hilton in a different city) as one of their decision. In other words, they were entirely cowardly and shady.

Now, a group of folks (notably grad students on the job market) are left in an awful bind for those are the only members (aside from some members of the different sub associations who have to meet) who really have to go. I mean, the job market is so tiny to begin with, missing your first round interview can have serious implications for your future. Of course these are the poorest members and thus will suffer from the money lost from changing plane tix and losing out on hotel reservations.

What I find so sad is that the AAA’s and its members had a chance to make a statement, to be defiant, to explode into a firm support and make a difference, even if limited and temporary, that would have struck and stuck in the minds of the workers and hopefully the Hilton. As a group of professionals, while we won’t ever make the salaries of doctors or lawyers, our privilege is way beyond anything these hotels workers will ever face. A life under a minimum wage job in San Francisco is no easy life, and worse, these are folks who service largely the affluent. Yet, as an organization we were unwilling to make a stance of support of the workers and also worked “behind closed doors” with Hilton so that we 1) still have to meet in thier hotel 2) and are bound to them again in 2006. Either they used some amazing scare tactics, or the AAA’s are totally spineless. And who are they trying to please in this case? They knew many member would not cross the picket lines. Did they think that moving acorss the country so you don’t have to face the garbage was going to be ok for those who did not want to cross the line? I mean most people who did not want to cross the line, I would hope (and I believe) were doing it for the issues and not to avoid feeling lame by doing so.

Anyway, politics to me is a little like making some brilliance in the face of a bad situation. In the case of our lovely fall leaves, it is just the order of nature that leads to such stunning beauty. But people, by sacrificing and making contributions where they can, in the face of unjust practices, can also make themselves into defiant objects, brining some brilliance into a world otherwise marked by a lot of ugliness.

October 22, 2004

the AAA’s and the strike

Category: Politics — Biella @ 12:05 am

So so so so so. Days and day pass and I don’t write a word here though I have composed, in my head, about 10 blog entries. Perhaps one of the more interesting things to have developed is that the AAA are pondering canceling their annual meetings to be held in SF in November over a a nasty hotel lock out and strike among hotel workers like room cleaners and bar tenders.

It was great to see the AAA write us a long memo, laying out the complexity of the dilemma’s, which range from our ethical stance to the huge financial loss they may incur. The AAA asked for member votes or opinions (it was unclear what they were using the information for) and I imagine they will come to some decision based in the information (hold the meeting, cancel, move to San Jose or postpone). Among U of C anthropologists, this has generated a lot of conversation on mailing lists and tomorrow our dept is having a public disucssion about it which I look forward to.

Below I am providing two letters, quite different in tone and content over what should be done. One is by Terry Turner, a professor of indigenous Amazonian groups with a heavy Marxist bent, the second the statement from the Society of Medical Anthropology. Terry wrote his letter to Sidney Mintz, another famous old school Marxist anthropoligist who felt some sort of middle ground might be possible. Terry clearly thinks otherwise and I tend to agree with him which is why I was quite dissapointed by the SMA decision, especially since this stike is largely over health care (rates are projected to go from $10 per month to $129. Percantage wise that is about…. a buttload$###$$^% Further their recourse to postmodernism for justification makes me a little sick. It mask the clear difference between our privilege as a professional organization and the situations of workers. Further to claim postmodernism is to make sweeping genreralizations about living in a world where subjectivity is fragmented and everyone deals with all of lifes complexities through a networked medium. Like is so often the case, a postmodern trope leads to political copouts. If it does not breed extreme cynisim, it breeds some screwed up logic of fatalism. Oh wait that is the same thing… And it entirely justifies a politics of selfishness. Ok, I am treading on the terrain of moral righteousness, I am just peeved and tired right now. Anyway take a look!

Dear Sid,

Thanks for your letter on the SF Hotel situation. I can’t agree with
your assessment of the situation, or your ideas for action, for the
following reasons. First and foremost, crossing a picket line is crossing a
picket line, and is unacceptable. The Union is not interested in suspending
the picket for individuals in exchange for other gestures of
support–”support” in this situation means not crossing the line. Just
cancelling one’s personal room reservation at the Hilton and abstaining from
buying drinks and eats at the Hotel, while attending the meetings in the
public rooms of the Hotel anyway, is not a viable alternative. It would
avoid the issue that those rooms would only be available because enough
other AAA members did not cancel their reservations and thus crossed the
picket line in the full sense of defying the union’s appeal for a boycott of
the Hotel.Those abstainers who cross the picket line only to attend sessions
would be taking advantage of a resource made available as a result of the
conduct of those colleagues who refused to honor the strike. They would thus
make themselves accessories to that conduct.

For these reasons,the alternatives seem to me to reduce to 1)cancel
the meetings altogether or 2)San Jos

October 18, 2004

Shower with your broccoli

Category: Humor — Biella @ 10:53 pm

I bought some broccoli at the store and lo and behold, they were adorned with shower caps. I kid you not, –> shower caps, to protect the “heads” from whatever things screw up broccolli. It was sort of amusing and somewhat strange but I guess no more strange than the long list of consumer goods/services that are dreamt up for purposes of customer satisfaction, appeasement, and denial.

But the best part about this new packaging innovation is now I can, finally, shower with my beloved, my broccoli.

a hackish photoblog

Category: Humor — Biella @ 10:37 pm

Mika and Mako not only have wonderfully strange similar sounding names, they are quite adpet at making a fine, humorous photoblog about thier HOT date and the way that Mako resolved the problem of The Recalcitrant Cork.

And what I love about this expose is that it is so hackish. Not only devilishly humors, it also is accompanied by Technical Notes

Thus while pragmatic and efficient, it is presented with gusto, style, grace, and humor. Indeed, hackish.

ps– and note the classic pun

October 14, 2004

Patenting Patenting

Category: Wholesome — Biella @ 6:46 pm

From Mako:

Patenting Patenting

One relatively recent development in the field of intellectual property is the ability to file for what are called business methods patents that do not cover a thing, an invention, or a design (the tradition scope of patents) but a way of doing business.

I think it would be a good strategy for companies with lots of over-broad — and in in-all-likelihood bogus — patents to file a business method patent on the act of filing over-broad and bogus patents to use as strategic leverage or tools for litigation. Better yet, they might patent the method of filing to have someone else’s’ patents reexamined and tossed out.

Of course, there’s plenty of prior art but the USPTO doesn’t seem to be too bothered by details like that anymore.

October 12, 2004

The conference bike

Category: Wholesome — Biella @ 5:38 pm

Move over segway for the conference bike a truly bizarre cycling innovation. I have to admit it looks like it is so dorky that is is totally rad. I mean you can workout, hang out friends, and get somewhere at all once. I wonder if those cheeseball outfits come with the bike.

At the steep price of 9500 Euros, I would only hope so..