Monthly Archives: July 2009

What makes a high order primate click a submit button

TransparencyCorps, with which I am currently obsessed, isn’t interesting because it’s crowdsourcing. There’s been plenty of that, even from the Sunlight Foundation (Creators of Among their past hits were Where are they now? which tracked the staffer/rep to lobbyist revolving door, and EarMarkWatch which employed Sunlight’s thousands of screaming fans to watch earmarks. TransparencyCorps is interesting because it’s about doing the task rather than the specific goal of the task. When you log in you are presented with various projects which you can apply your boundless, or at least NP friendly, intelligence to, that we might make a better government and better world.

Also they give you points, and if you have the most points you get listed on a leaderboard. This concept of the identity resting with being part of a community that does the action (in this case the Corps) rather than the goal of the action (Get those earmarks watched!) seems powerfully important to me. In the online world it has most in common with the stated inspiration for the Corps, Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. But psych studies would suggest an important difference: the turk is ruined by money. Social psychology studies have consistently shown that tasks people will enthusiastically do because they enjoy them lose their charm as soon as the people doing the tasks get paid for them. Being paid once can actually take away the pleasure forever.

What is this magic currency that is a disappearing polymorph in the presence of money? And why does TransparencyCorp have it in spades? Partly I think it’s the chance to beat the bastards in politics, to catch them at their game. Since their game is about corruption and money, it makes sense that introducing money dilutes the fierce sense of freedom that arises out of finding a web form that finally lets you stick it to The Man. In this case the disappearing polymorph is outrage.

But there’s more. When you hit done, another page comes up, subtly asking for another. Everything hints at stories. Who are these people? What are their lives like? In the case of earmarks, what do they want the money for, and how much is it? Given that there isn’t really a goal beyond ‘be part of the corps’ you’re free to wander mentally around what it all means. As Clay Johnson of Sunlight said, one of the reason people keep pressing the button is that “Everyone wants to be the person that finds the next bridge to nowhere.”

I predict stickiness, and a community that will grow up if Sunlight lets it, because there’s about four ways in which this set up is designed to make little primate brains go whir.

Tab Dump

  • From the wonderful and ever surprising Carl Malamud, audio of TS Elliot Himself reading the Wasteland. Other than all the talk about copyright, it’s something else to here it from the author. I felt like I could understand it in a new way.
  • Matt Taibbi, who is normally at his finest when Savaging Thomas Friedman, has found something even better to savage- Goldman Sachs. He continues with a piece about Goldman Sachs gaming the TARP. In my fantasy, Taibbi testifies a lot for a new version of the Pecora Commission.

The once and future of scientific publishing

Science as an act of public participation

The idea of open science began with The Royal Society of London, an idiosyncratic groups of talkative 17th century Gentlemen Scientists. Mostly they were the middling upper class – third sons of lords, a group that had more free time than responsibility. They met in a hall to talk about science, read letters from absent colleagues and perform experiments in front of each other. They were so taken with the idea that a theory should be judged on its merits rather than the status of the person advancing it that they started a journal in 1665- the Philosophical Transactions- whose articles were chosen by a review of expert peers rather than the eminence of the presenter. The Royal Society’s motto is “Nullius in Verba,” Latin for “On the words of no one.”

Since then science changed all of society, and the barriers to understanding and participation have steadily declined. Charles Darwin was probably the last of the Gentlemen Scientists. He published The Origin of the Species just 10 years before Nature first rolled off the press as one of the early modern scientific journals. From there the standards of rigor would solidify, and science would move into the academy. The 19th century was the death knell of the class system barrier to scientific participation. This changed how we fundamentally saw science- no longer the pursuit of Great (Smart) Men of history. Progress became the many dots of published research that made up the pointillist portrait of the natural world, conveyed largely by the journal. The next century exploded as a result.

A search on the Nature website alone turns up references to over 370,000 articles across a meager 72 journals. The largest publisher, Elsevier publishes over 2200 journals1. Elsevier’s motto, which dates back to the 17th century, is “Non solus,” Latin for “not alone.” It’s a beautiful motto for the 400 year old peer review system. Science required a community, it could only really happens when we are not alone.

The net brought this community to a new place, a place where a layer of mediation (publishers) can be safely removed. This is the Open Access movement. Open Access is about scientific publishing being quickly posted online, freely available to all comers. It’s peer reviewed in some cases, not in others.

Compared to the rich history of the Royal Society and Elsevier, the world of Open Access journals is tiny and new. But the internet is changing the space between scientists, which in time will change the shape of science entirely. According to there at 753 open archives of research, and many of those are small archives with little more than minutes of local scientific society meetings. The largest of these,, boasts 388,000 articles2, but no peer-review. started as a “preprint” area, but evolved into the place where physics and math can iterate quickly, making math and physics into a conversation, and the conversation is vibrant. Formal peer review is replaced by constant peer interest. Into this environment came Grisha Perelman’s proof of the Poincaré conjecture. The unlikely proof, along his refusal of the Fields Medal captured the media’s imagination. A portrait of a sensitive and grumpy mathematician came out, someone unwilling to submit to the social processes of science for personal reasons. It didn’t matter how valid those reasons were if it kept him out of the literature- generally, that’s the end of the story. But this time we didn’t have to do without his brilliant math. Importantly, in this story, Perelman isn’t the beneficiary of Open publishing; the rest of us are.

But Open Access publishing isn’t just the subscription model sans subscription fees. It’s a different way of doing science when anyone can potentially point an RSS reader at the latest work, from eminent to downright dodgy. They can mark it up, discuss it, blog it, cross reference it, and even integrate it into their world view- and then head off to breakfast.

It’s jarring, even shocking, to be disrupted this way, and to many it looks like a revolt against the publishers of journals. Historical context suggests something different; that perhaps wide dissemination and opening of the process is just part of the natural progression of scientific dialogue. This step, like each before it, takes advantage of the technology and social shifts of the time, and each step has accelerated the progress and widened the breadth of science. And every step has been scary for those who went to the Academy for stability, as well as the euphoric high of understanding.

For scientists in the developing world, or outside the university system, or just those hungry for speed, it’s resources like that have made them “Non solus.” This is touted as one of the triumphs of Open Access, that people outside the usual sphere of science can finally get the latest research. But in fact, it’s the community of science that benefits the most by swelling their ranks.

Taking research out of the segregating world of the of the journal invites the general public to participate in the act of science. They are no long safely outside the walls of the 19th century’s privileged classes or the 20th century’s academia. They are going to watch and comment. They are going to help, and get in the way. Science trolls will harass legitimate work, celebrity pressure will push publishing popular results on popular topics. Rituals of scientific professionalism will become archaic, the status derived from publishing itself will muddy. But it will all be worth it: every endeavor of research with be at last ‘Non solus’ – no one is alone on the internet. With tools for data analysis and statistical modeling falling into everyone’s hands, novel patterns impossible to see in the walled gardens of journals will emerge. Amateurs whose only qualification is interest will transform every discipline they touch. The public will study science and science will study the public. They will delight each other, they will horrify each other with misappropriation, they will drive each other until they are so fast and wide they are one thing. It will be hectic and unstable. Newly opened doors will require new gatekeepers. What the open form of science will bring us is as beyond our imagination as current daily life would be to Darwin. Here the culture of technology informs the culture of science: this is what open interconnectedness has already done to tech.

Perhaps the most important change will be generational. Children growing up in an environment of open science will have a fundamental scientific literacy that we who have learned to love science like a second language will never fully be able to experience like the native speakers. Not all children, but certainly those that lean that way. The natural reasoning of our grandchildren will baffle us as much as the computer literacy of our children has.

It was a radical departure for science from the appeal to authority to the idea of experimentation and collaboration- a wildly egalitarian idea for the 17th century. To “Nullius in Verba,” (On the words of no one), Open Access might add “Omnium Iudicio”, or “to the judgement of all” – the wild idea of the 21st. Summing up from my 2006 Seed piece: science in the 21st century will be vandalized and common, and better for it.

1. 2006 numbers.
2. Haven’t updated these numbers either. Suffice to say, a lot.

A poet on addiction: “Maybe it’s what sweet would be without sugar.”

Nabbed off the web, here is an except from Dale Pendell’s wonderful Pharmako/Dynamis, part of the indispensable Pharmako series, which you should go buy at once. This is probably one of the most vivid and beautiful descriptions of the disease to be rendered in the English language.

Stealing From Tomorrow

A peculiar clean taste, slightly chemical, but not unpleasant.  Once you taste it you’ll never forget.  Nothing else quite like it.  Treble notes.  Trace of metallic, trace of bitter.  Tongue numb.  Maybe it’s what sweet would be without sugar.

Seems like a convenient mode of ingestion of small quantities.

Keep wanting
to get back
to where things were clear.

“So good that if you use it once you’re hooked.”  Talk about good advertising!  Did the cartels pay for that line?

The free amine base is simply prepared by basifying.  The rule of thumb that alkaloid salts are water soluble and bases oil soluble hold well for cocaine.  A few drops of ammonia in an aqueous solution of the salt precipitates the base.  Extract the base with petroleum ether (not diethyl ether) or naphtha.

Add a layer of solvent, cap the container, and shake:  when the solution turns clear the precipitated base has dissolved in the solvent layer.  Draw off the solvent layer with a pipette (like, an eyedropper) and squeeze into a wide, flat-bottomed dish to evaporate off the solvent.  The crystals are quite beautiful.

This much is well documented.

The first flash is the best. Never
quite that good

The fleeting quality of the hit…how an interruption, a word or request from someone else, the telephone ringing, your spouse wondering about the shopping, any outside engagement can dispel the brief enchantment.

So you try to avoid the interactions.

You go again, but as the metabolic half-life of the coke far outlasts the duration of the rush, the stimulant continues to build up in your system.  So you need a downer.  Something to take the edge off.  Some way to get leveled.

We’re talking poisons here.  But poisons going nowhere.

But you do it some more.  We can call it an Experiment.

Finally you do it even when you don’t like what it does to you.  You get too much edge.  You get too many jaggies.  So maybe you take something to take the edge off.  Speedballing.  Except maybe you take slightly more than you needed because you wanted to feel it and now you are drowsy, so you toke some more crack, or base.  That puts you too far on the stimulated side, so you try the cycle again.  Eventually you get leveled.

Brain won’t work.  Too jumpy to read.  Too bored to do nothing.

Plenty late enough to go to bed.  Just one more hit.  Just one more lift.  Maybe a small one this time.

Small one didn’t do it.

you hide your pain in the blinding whiteness
of your crystals.  You hide the night.
Already I can feel it:  tasks undone,
papers left scattered.  A slow accumulation
of flotsam.  Or a word too sharply spoken.
A craving that calls me, through any job or meeting.
during an evening with friends,
from my bed where I went thinking to sleep.
So quickly she makes her bed in your ear,
but she is not the singer, she
bringeth not the lyre, but the lie.

To keep the vapor
from condensing in the stem
I warm it first,

moving the pipe
back and forth slowly
over the flame

trying to heat
the whole pipe

Brushing the long stem with a flame must be the lightest way to touch something.  It’s like polishing, or cleaning.

You can see the spots
that haven’t gotten hot enough
from the crud and stuff
in the pipe.  Stroke
the bowl a few times
and then come back
to the stem, twist
a little left or right
to try to get
the sides.  Wait till
it’s all hot to
put the sustained
heat to the bowl.

I like to see
the crystals melt
before emptying out
my lungs, exhaling, then
three or four
final stem passes,
back to the bowl
and inhale slowly, you want
that vapor to hit
the bottom of your lungs, pal,
then hold it in,
and hold, or even when
you can’t anymore just
breathe shallow.

The flame is like a brush.  It bends when I move the lamp.  I can bring the lamp around and along the stem and the flame tip follows precisely, always a little bit behind.

Like a tongue tip, lightly licking all along it.

You love it.  You want to do it again and
morning come and again and ever
so closer and ever and
I still haven’t slept.

If I could just find some activity that didn’t require concentration.

Morning is morning, but now is now.  Should quit this stuff soon.

Freebase is the hardest substance to leave in the cupboard that I know of. That doesn’t mean you can’t quit, you can.  But you’re going to have to leave town.

Buying in small quantities is safest.

No.  There IS no “safest.”

Coke can overpower the Critic, but in whose service?  It can put aggression on auto-pilot, a much-valued state of mind in our culture, but in whose service?

It turns out that stealing from tomorrow is just the first stage.

Stealing from tomorrow is like going into debt, spending tomorrow today, or tonight, actually.  So you’ve wrecked tomorrow.  Stolen all of its energy, stolen its waking hours, stolen its good will.  Tomorrow you will be behind all day.

If you get up at all!

After stealing from tomorrow for long enough,

weeks, maybe for months,

you start stealing from today.

Stealing from today means that the ally is not giving you power or aid or assistance in accomplishing some task.  Rather, the ally takes today for her own service.  Ingestion, filling the bowl, the preparation, the scoring.  And just the time taking the hits.  A little bit of time to space, to flash or level, and that’s about it for today.

Just the worship service.

Weren’t you supposed to get something from all this?

You’re doing your part for her.  That’s for DAMN sure!

But you’re not at the end.

Next is stealing from yesterday.

The third stage of the ally’s conquest.

Your savings, your bank accounts – nothing very esoteric there.

Sometimes your friends.  Sometimes your marriage.

Sometimes your children.

Your reputation.

And your memories.

Nothing very esoteric there.

Perhaps the best writing on the effects of cocaine is by David Lenson in his book On Drugs.  Lenson writes about the “runaway engines of desire.”  He suggests that the American power structures reacted with such intensity and virulence against cocaine because cocaine presents such a clear image and parody of consumerism.  You buy it, it’s gone, more makes you want to buy more.  But buying cocaine is buying the desire itself, the desire itself is the product.  A devilish perfection.

The desire, the consumerism, is too blatant, too obvious:  a parody of the holy rite, and hence condemned with all the fury of the Inquisition.

A citizen set fire to a house because it was a “crack house.”  Though he admitted setting the fire, the jury found him not guilty, using jury annulment:  an auto-da-fé for the Holy Cause is not a crime.

The hard part.

You do it instead of eating.
You do it instead of sleeping.
You do it instead of doing.

The hard part.
is stopping, sitting down.
The hard part,
the hard part concerns time.
The hard part is just sitting,
without inspiration,
with no ideas and not knowing…

No, that’s not it.  Lots of ideas.
The hard part is doing it.
And there is so much to do:
much more than you have time to do.
It’s easier to keep the accelerator pressed
and to keep rushing, touching this, touching that,
and to keep doing that.

The hard part is quitting.

Clear enough?

Dual marketing

Ever since my days of developing fast cal/oz/$ estimates at the Safeway on Santa Monica Ave in an attempt to keep myself, physiologically speaking, a going concern, I have been suspicious of the way pet food gets labeled. Today I grabbed a can of my wonderful hostess’ canned food for her cat. I delivered half to the dish on the floor, and caught sight of the name- Grammy’s Pot Pie. Pot pie? When did cats get so into pastry? When did Grammy start including the mellow white meat of mice in her dishes? In short, WTF?

I know the theory- anthropomorphizing pet food is yet another way to separate middle class suckers from their yuppie food stamps. It makes well heeled pet owners feel that if they really loved their pets they’d buy them all the food an omnivore could ever want, despite most house pets complete lack of an omnivoracious digestive system.

I always thought there was more to it than that. Part of it was the suckers, sure, but I’ve always thought it was a brilliant case of (admittedly grim) dual marketing. Beginning in the late Reagan era’s special treatment for the poor the way pet food was presented seemed to be changing. High calorie count? Low glycemic index? Vitamin additives, and a label with a picture of a Thanksgiving meal on it? What more could a septuagenarian on a social security fixed income ask for? Pet food is suspiciously labeled for human consumption, and humans do consume it. Why not compete for that market segment?

If you think this is too bleak to be the case, and I am ridiculous and paranoid for thinking it, I present Grammy’s Pot Pie, Smaller Serving Size 5.5oz.

The smell of Grammy’s house and her famous chicken pot pie is an unforgettable comfort. Our family loves dogs and we thought it was about time to share this great taste with yours. These tender chunks of chicken are sure to make your dog beg to go to Grammy’s, even if they have to eat their vegetables. Grammy’s Pot Pie is prepared with Chicken, Red Jacket New Potatoes, Carrots, Snow Peas, & Red Apples.

Guaranteed Analysis
Crude Protein (Min.) 9.00%
Crude Fat (Min.) 4.00%
Crude Fiber (Max.) 1.00%
Moisture (Max.) 81.00%

Calorie Content
1045 kcal/kg – A 13.2 oz. can provides 394 kcal of metabolizable energy, calculated value.

Chicken, Chicken Broth, Chicken Liver, Fresh Red Jacket New Potatoes, Fresh Carrots, Fresh Snow Peas, Fresh Red Delicious Apple, Potato Starch-modified, Olive Oil, Calcium Carbonate, Potassium Chloride, Sodium Tripolyphosphate, Flax Seed Oil (For Omega -3), Natural Caramel Color, Poultry Seasoning (Thyme, Sage, Rosemary), Yucca Schidigera Extract, Choline Chloride, Salt, Lecithin, Zinc Amino Acid Complex, Mixed Tocopherols, Iron Amino Acid Complex, Vitamin E Supplement, Manganese Amino Acid Complex,Vitamin B12 Supplement, Vitamin A Acetate, Copper Amino Acid Complex, d-Calcium Pantothenate,Vitamin D3 Supplement, Niacin, Riboflavin Supplement, Biotin, Ethylenediamine Dihydriodide, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride, Folic Acid, Thiamine Mononitrate, Sodium Selenite.

Grammy’s Pot Pie is formulated to meet the nutritional levels established by the AAFCO Dog Food nutrient profiles for all life stages

This is one of the more, I feel, conclusive examples of the genre. I don’t even think it’s that horrible, if the labels are even close to accurate. If poor people are stuck eating pet food, I am hoping the ones that can afford the slightly more expensive pet food are getting the advertised nutritional value. But I do hope that we can remember that this is speaking to more than one demographic.

The things we all know and won’t say about copyright laws

We argue at length about all sorts of issues- time shifting, format shifting, sharing with friends, remixing, fair use, file sharing, blah blah blah. I get questions all the time in person and in mail, about points of IP law. I try and head them off quickly with the IANAL1 declaration, but usually it turns out I do know the answer. Most people’s questions regarding copyright law are pretty simple and settled issues. (Not all. Sometimes I know the answer, but it’s “Nobody knows!”. Points of copyright law are much like subatomic physics in that way, in that they exist in probabilities more than realities until they get interpreted by a court.)(That’s one of my surefire metaphors. Explaining “A ninth circuit decision collapses the Schrödinger wavefunction of a law!” really clarifies things, don’t it?)

The problem is there’s a big difference between telling you what’s illegal and telling you what not to do. Unlike most criminal law, IP law requires that the holder of the right go to the trouble of initiating a suit. If they don’t want to sue, you can “LA LA LA!” to their tune on national TV, wearing their trademarks over your naughty bits, while building their patented bicycle, selling it and encouraging everyone else to do it, too, without ever having a spot of trouble with the authorities. All those things are still illegal, highly illegal, but nobody is going to do anything to stop you.

This leads to a cultural dissonance. Is it illegal to rip your DVD of the Aristocats? You betcha. Is it wrong? Fuck, I don’t know or even care, to be honest. Is anyone going to sue you over it? No, no, no.

The truth about most copyright questions is this: no one cares if you break the law. This is not an answer lawyers can give you, and for the most part people aren’t sure enough of the law themselves to say it. I can, though. Include a picture in your high school report, rip your DVDs, give audiobooks to friends (while keeping a copy, you scoundrel!) or put up your first, horrific, 20 song Michael Jackson mashup on your website. You don’t need settled law because no one is ever ever going to sue you. Even the RIAA suits, already more rare than dying in a catastrophic freak accident2, were never directed at downloaders. Let me be redundant here- No one was ever sued by the RIAA for downloading any amount of music. That’s because they know these things, too. Some copyright violations are simply too ingrained to ever be pursued. Outlawing music sharing between friends is like outlawing the blowjob… good luck with that.

This is why copyright law is so icky these days- it’s totally disconnected with the culture. It’s not even really oppressive much of the time. It has this feel of thought crime because it’s so pervasive and so easy to break by just normally using a computer. But it’s not really Orwellian because you’d have to be totally Orwellian to enforce it universally and nobody actually wants to be that Orwellian about it. Better to be confusing and guilt inflicting, more Jewish mother than totalitarian state, with the occasional financially crucified single mom or college kid, so corporate rights holders can claim they really mean it this time.

We like to think of our laws meaning something, having teeth, and being right. We like to think of our laws as guides to good behavior, the blueprint for a polite and functional society that protects the weak and enables opportunity for all. Current copyright law, like all unreasonable law, undermines all of that. The real answer to your copyright questions is ignore the law when it doesn’t matter, and obey it when it does. How can you tell? You can’t! Isn’t this fun?

Nevertheless for the most part this is what we’re all doing these days. Most people have a good idea of when it’s really mean and harmful to infringe and don’t do it, or try to find other ways to compensate creators. People that can’t pay don’t, but then, they couldn’t pay, so no loss there. Some people really believe there should be no IP law at all, but even they are for creative people finding ways to make a living. Even the people for copyright maximalism at the total sacrifice of privacy and convenience aren’t actually for total enforcement, at least in part because they know they would be drawn and quartered. (I don’t mean in a bad press sense.) So we’re stuck with laws that not only don’t reflect reality, but in some cases actively conflict with physical realities of digital technology. We must obey them and enforce them internationally, except when we don’t at all. And their violation reflects a huge loss of money, except when that money never existed in the first place, and they limit our speech, except when they don’t because no one is bothered  about a particular work’s inclusion elsewhere anyway. Keep whistling and averting your eyes.

1. I am not a lawyer.
2. This is not my usually egregious hyperbole. If you google around, you will find various analysis from different years of the chance of being sued by the RIAA vs various weird forms of death.a

    a. But it is my usual form of laziness, given I don’t want to find all the links right now.

Undoubtedly more than you want to know about the Google Book Settlement

The basic story of the Google Books settlement (and why you should care) is this:

In 2004 Google announced plans to start scanning and putting online both out-of and in-copyright books from partnered university collections. There were a lot of other scanning efforts, like the OCA, and Project Gutenberg, but they stuck to scanning books in the public domain- works whose copyrights had expired. Google was the first scanner with the voluminous copper and zinc alloy cojones to just scan copyrighted books and post them where anyone could search them. (If not actually download them.)

In 2005, the Author’s Guild and publishing industry started suing the snot out of them. Of course, what gave Google this previously unforeseen courage was a ridiculous stock price (“Well it was this or hire someone to start shoveling money into the bay…”)(not an actual quote) and grinning phalanxes of lawyers.

In 2008, Google settled. But what the settled for was the Las Vegas buffet of publishing rights. To plagiarize Wikipedia, the terms were roughly:

In October 2008, Google signed a settlement with the Author’s Guild for $125 million. A share of the settlement, $34.4 million dollars, will go towards the funding of the [[Book Rights Registry]], a form of [[copyright collective]] that will pay copyright owners a portion of the profits made by Google Books.

Google created a Google Book Settlement web site that went active on February 11, 2009. This site allows authors and other rights holders of out of print (but copyrighted) books to submit a claim by January 5, 2010.[10] In return they will receive $60 per full book, or $5 to $15 for partial works.[10] In return, Google will be able to index the books and display snippets in search results, as well as up to 20% of each book in preview mode.[10] Google will also be able to show ads on these pages and make available for sale digital versions of each book. Authors and copyright holders will receive 63 percent of all advertising and e-commerce revenues associated with their works.[10]

Yes, leaving in the citations amuses me.

2008-present and probably future, intellectual and legal drama galore.

Why? Because as with any blanket copyright deal there are upsides and downsides, but unique to this one is Google. As in: Google brings its own unique character to it, yeah, but also as in, only Google gets to be part of it, which is kind of an odd idea for a collecting society.

The upsides are instantly obvious. For anyone that cares in the slightest about the fate of the 20th century’s orphan works the Google has come in at what might be the last cultural moment with a deus ex machina that happens to scan 1000 pages per hour. It has thus far lifted 7 million mortal titles up to be ever-teaching constellations shining down from the Google server farms. From the perspective of we plebs, that means the chance to search a previously unavailable vastness of human knowledge from that text box, and maybe even buy orphan books. And certainly look at targeted ads crafted from our profiles and the work itself. We are feeling luckier than ever.

But, as they say, nothing vast enters the lives of mortals without a curse. The curses of the settlement are many and subtle. The deal applies only to Google, effectively shutting out other scanning efforts that might be more in the public interest. Google is answerable to their shareholders, not our cultural legacy. They and the associations stand to make a lot of money, but actual authors seem like they might be largely left out in the cold. It requires copyright holder registration, unlikely to reach the people that might be helped by the deal. The deal gets fuzzy on implementation. It’s US centric. It has no provisions for privacy, and nothing to guard against censorship. It’s really obviously anti-competitive. Google gets to determine a work’s ‘optimal price’, whatever that means. It’s Google, so they’re going to gather gobs of data on anyone using it. Unlike ASCAP, with which it is often compared, there’s been no government investigation and review. Libraries may see woefully incomplete access to the digital versions of their own books. It may take the wind out of the sails for real copyright reform that would do more to protect our cultural legacy. Oh, and did I mention enough times that Google, and only Google, gets to play?

Now for the more than you want to know part:

By the way, if you were looking for some over arching and final conclusion about the settlement from me, tough.

Sophocles on the Financial Crisis & Subprime Lending.

“‘Tis by them, well I know, that these have been beguiled and bribed to do this deed. Nothing so evil as money ever grew to be current among men. This lays cities low, this drives men from their homes, this trains and warps honest souls till they set themselves to works of shame; this still teaches folk to practise villainies, and to know every godless deed.

But all the men who wrought this thing for hire have made it sure that, soon or late, they shall pay the price… For thou wilt find that ill-gotten pelf brings more men to ruin than to weal.”


Participatory Bureaucracy

I’ve been playing with Transparency Corps, which I would like to write about. Besides being intriguing it would make my time marking up earmarks in the system research time rather than distraction from work.

It’s an interesting experience doing the earmark project, wherein you, the human, transcribe the vital data on earmark letters for the thousands of mysteriously funded projects that roll down the hill unto the masses. I am terrified of getting something wrong, and I already have once, but have no way of fixing it. Alas.

It’s nice to think of Sunlight getting all this civically-minded mechanical turk data, I’m almost more interested in the people, who, like me, are suddenly poking their noses in and wondering what these occult bit of government actually do. You simply cannot transcribe these earmarks without thinking about them. Some of them look like damn good ideas. Some of them seem just a bit off. Scariest, some of them so obviously have not been thought about by any human being between the requester and you- completely sliding through the government system in a form letter of appropriations. (Also, what the hell is with none of these earmarks giving funding amounts? )

Go to, sign up, and try out a few earmarks. For a boring task, it’s a pretty interesting experience.

My current favorite poem, by Katherine Dunn

I found this only in one place across the net, and never found it included in any book. It’s like it barely exists- just on a personal blog called broken ladder, and in a song by illimitable Steinski. It is simply one of the most amazing poems I have ever encountered.

american dozens: remembered curses from the playground – by katherine dunn

your mother is probably the only one you’ve ever known
who really wanted to kill you
and your mother stopped cars on sunset boulevard
by the length of her legs and the magyar in her cheekbones
though she claimed it was just good posture

and your mother married five handsome men
but swore she only did it for the money
and your mother made ships out of pine cones
and guns out of milk cans
and no human male was calm within fifty feet of her

and your mother told wild stories at the dinner table
till you were cramped and leaking with laughter
she said stalin died from eating two whole chickens all by himself
but she ate only wings and necks and the pope’s nose

and your mother called you ‘dove’ or ‘childy’ and broke your nose
and put your baby brother in the hospital with a fractured pelvis
and your mother dragged you through bean fields and dreams
and turned the hose on bill collectors

and your mother could curse
and your mother stole proudly saying “it’s not dishonest, it’s resourceful!”
and your mother the teetotaler
ran a desoto full of booze into dry counties to buy christmas toys

and your mother ran a red light in a strange town and got the arresting officer
to pay her rent
and your mother fed you, all one winter
by drawing portraits of albert schwietzer with black crayons on old pillowcases
and selling them to suckers

and your mother forgot toothbrushes but taught you to make slingshots
and keep your distance in a fight
and your mother didn’t really care if you went to school
but she told you you were god and rubbed your face
in raw beauty three times a day

and your mother knew if you got hurt even across town
but it never worried her
and your mother made pie out of one saltine and a raisin
and your mother singed her eyebrows scooping you from a fire some claim she set
and drew them on with maybelline forever after

and your mother ran off with a new man and did her best to leave you behind
but you hitchhiked after her
and your mother wore you out with switches, broom handles, belts
and her paralyzing tongue
then snatched your ass from the draft board and hid you for a whole war

and your mother sliced off the top of your skull with her terrible love
and poured in the charred sludge of hate
and there was never a dull moment

and your mother suspects you of plotting against her
and she’s right