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May 29, 2008

Filed under: politics»the_new_protest

Where They Cut

In our technology story arc meetings at CQ, we've tried to find ways of looking at the direction of ICT, particularly for hotspots like open access or network neutrality--so for example, maybe you look at it as "new vs. old business" or "content providers vs. network providers." A frame that I've found particularly helpful is to look at these controversies as two basic philosophies: software people and hardware people.

Software people are Google, Microsoft, NBC, etc. They want to sell you information, with or without DRM, but when push comes to shove they are probably more likely to say that information should be "free." They only care about the network insofar as it can move content. On the other side are the hardware people, like Comcast or Verizon. The hardware people want to sell you physical objects, or hook you up to physical networks, through which you will be connected to content at the hardware provider's whim--and when push comes to shove, they will prioritize the health and performance of the network (such as it is, in the case of US broadband) over the intangible information inside it.

These aren't hard and fast categories--some hardware people want to be software people, and vice versa--but it helps me, at least. It applies the old question of "What would you rescue from a burning house?" to the actors in this drama: would they save the content? Or will they save the pipes?

If you're a dissenting voice using new media, I suspect the question is similar, but it's not about what they'll save. It asks "where will they cut?" Ultimately, that's the bottom line.

Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody offers an intriguing glimpse of Internet-enabled political protest, with examples of flash mobs in Belarus and twitter-enabled dissidents. It also explores, to some extent, the possibility that police or counter-movements can eavesdrop or disrupt (through firewalls and censorship) those tools. These are the software problems.

In 2005, Nepal's president took power, cutting off phone lines and Internet connections as he did so to silence and disorient dissenters. In 2007, during a vicious crackdown on protestors, the Burmese government shut down all Internet traffic for several days and did not fully restore it (for certain values of "restore" that include censorship and firewalling) for almost two weeks.

Those are the hardware problems. All the proxy servers and chat rooms in the world won't help when the phones are turned off. It's something I want to keep in mind while I'm looking up cool examples of technology and political/social movements: above all, when the movement becomes too much of a nuisance to the powers that be, where will they choose to cut it off? Ignorance of this point is a profound failure of the rhetorical strategy.

May 19, 2008

Filed under: politics»wingnuts

No, Says the Man in Washington

What is it with libertarians and watercraft?

April 1, 2008

Filed under: politics»blogs»linky

Fafblog is Back!

Can it possibly last?

March 27, 2008

Filed under: politics»issues»defense

What You Got Wrong

Slate (in addition to various other media outlets) has been running a series of editorials by former Iraq war boosters on why they got the war so horribly wrong, five years later. In other words, why did they think that everything would be rainbows and kittens six months after the invasion?

This is a silly question. It allows these people to look back on their views and pontificate endlessly about how they were fooled, leading to an endless array of excuses. "Oh, the administration was so convincing" (seriously?) or "oh, September 11th made me so angry and afraid" (the one in 2001 that was in no way connected to Iraq?) or "oh, Saddam was a bad, bad man" (your point?).

I have yet to see anyone give what is the correct answer: "Somehow, I believed (despite all the historical evidence) that forcing our way into a country and completely upsetting their political system (not to mention killing a lot of people) would lead to the 52nd State of America. Yes, I am an idiot." Because that's really what it all boils down to, in the end. You can point to a number of intellectual distractions, but the fundamental problem is that pro-war sloganeers believe (note the present tense) that war is a perfectly good initial solution to their international problems.

Sadly, the fact that this is a really obvious error will not stop these people from being paid to offer their opinions for the rest of their natural lives. You get the pundit class you deserve, I guess.

Nobody seems to be particularly interested in paying people who were right about the invasion to expand on their views, perhaps because Daniel Davies already did it about as well as anyone could, for free.

March 19, 2008

Filed under: politics»activism

The Pros

Since my boss knows that I used to work for the Bank, and that I still freelance for them sometimes, she asked whether I missed days like this, when the World Bank is listed as a protest target.

Not really, to be honest. During my time we never really got any good protesters. I've always regretted this. I wanted to go out wearing my Bank ID badge and join the protest, yelling at my employer. I suspect that most staff might have enjoyed the same impulse every now and then. But the groups that I usually saw were not serious--not like the masses that turn out for the big anti-war or immigration marches. I suspect that even today, the Bank won't get real attention. That'll be reserved for higher-profile targets, like the IRS and beltway bandits, or the main marches on the Mall.

My boss drew attention to this event from DCist's coverage:

"March of the Dead": Dozens of activists will roam the city dressed in black representing those killed in the Iraq war. Minimal disruptions are likely.
"Dozens?" That's not much of a representation. If you're going to do this, do it right: get yourself ~4,000 activists in uniform black clothes and some kind of mask. Otherwise, it kind of misses the point, doesn't it?

October 26, 2007

Filed under: politics»national»congress

My Senators, Let Me Show You Them

Ending the first week at CQ. I have joked that if they go on vacation and leave me here without more training, the site will be replaced entirely with Congressional LOL Cats by the time they get back.

October 1, 2007

Filed under: politics»wingnuts


In the wake of Bioshock's undersea Ayn Rand, China Mieville exposes the Freedom Ship fantasy. Who knew? Someone wants to build a Rapture for real:

It is a libertarian dream. Hexagonal neighborhoods of square apartments bob sedately by tiny coiffed parks and tastefully featureless marinas, an Orange County of the soul. It is the ultimate gated community, designed not by the very rich and certainly not by the very powerful, but by the middlingly so. As a utopia, the Atlantis Project is pitiful. Beyond the single one-trick fact of its watery location, it is tragically non-ambitious, crippled with class anxiety, nostalgic not for mythic glory but for the anonymous sanctimony of an invented 1950s. This is no ruling class vision: it is the plaintive daydream of a petty bourgeoisie, whose sulky solution to perceived social problems is to run away--set sail into a tax-free sunset.

September 11, 2007

Filed under: politics»issues»defense


As Ezra Klein says, 9/11 is no longer a day with any meaning. It's a talking point that we are never allowed to forget, as Bush repeats it over and over with a fanatical ease. I think Ezra's five and a half years too late in saying so, though. The political appropriation took place practically from day one.

There are people who actually lost friends and relatives in the 2001 attacks. There are people who saw the devastation in New York, who were profoundly affected. Those people deserve respect. Out of that respect, I have little to say to them.

And then there is the rest of the country, who have never stopped talking about how "9/11 changed everything." I don't think it's crass to point out that Fleawallow, USA (population: practically nobody) probably didn't lose anyone six years ago, and has never been in any real danger. But as a country, we lept at the chance to gnash our teeth and wring our hands--which is all well and good, except that we never stopped.

Six years later, Americans have squeezed as much angst and increasingly-hollow emotional resonance as we could from those deaths, to the point where I wonder if we are not actually enjoying it a little. All I would like us to consider is that perhaps we should see what it's like moving out from under their shadow. The attacks in 2001 were a tragedy, but they do not define us.

In the previous two years, I eschewed commemorating the eleventh day of September. Today I only mention it in the hopes that I will not feel like doing so again.

August 7, 2007

Filed under: politics»blogs

The Pantsing of Nations

Has it really been a year since Fafblog went cold?

If you have not had the pleasure, the following examples may explain why I keep up hope for the return of Fafnir and Giblets:

July 19, 2007

Filed under: politics»issues»economy»corporate

Street People

If you have ever wanted to see the evil, exploitative face of the overclass, look no further than this article on Costco:

"At Costco, one of Mr. Sinegal's cardinal rules is that no branded item can be marked up by more than 14 percent, and no private-label item by more than 15 percent. In contrast, supermarkets generally mark up merchandise by 25 percent, and department stores by 50 percent or more.

"They could probably get more money for a lot of items they sell," said Ed Weller, a retailing analyst at ThinkEquity.


IF shareholders mind Mr. Sinegal's philosophy, it is not obvious: Costco's stock price has risen more than 10 percent in the last 12 months, while Wal-Mart's has slipped 5 percent. Costco shares sell for almost 23 times expected earnings; at Wal-Mart the multiple is about 19. Mr. Dreher said Costco's share price was so high because so many people love the company. "It's a cult stock," he said.

Emme Kozloff, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Company, faulted Mr. Sinegal as being too generous to employees, noting that when analysts complained that Costco's workers were paying just 4 percent toward their health costs, he raised that percentage only to 8 percent, when the retail average is 25 percent.

"He has been too benevolent," she said. "He's right that a happy employee is a productive long-term employee, but he could force employees to pick up a little more of the burden."

Mr. Sinegal says he pays attention to analysts' advice because it enforces a healthy discipline, but he has largely shunned Wall Street pressure to be less generous to his workers.

"When Jim talks to us about setting wages and benefits, he doesn't want us to be better than everyone else, he wants us to be demonstrably better," said John Matthews, Costco's senior vice president for human resources."

This is a company that makes money hand over fist. They have a steady-growth stock. They give consumers a good value. The CEO makes only about $500K per year (which is, believe it or not, frugal). In other words, everyone's happy. And the response from the analysts is to ask why he can't squeeze his workers harder.

In the 1800's, these guys would have been asking if it's not possible to beat the slaves just a bit more.

Future - Present - Past